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President Obama Visits Ireland; Deadly Tornado Hits Missouri

Aired May 23, 2011 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, a killer tornado carves a path four miles long, more than a half a mile wide, right through the heart of the city. At least 116 people are dead in Joplin, Missouri. Hundreds more are injured -- 2,000 buildings are damaged or destroyed and a high school and hospital ripped apart. We are going to show you the moments of terror as the twister struck and we will take you to the scene as the rescue teams hunt for survivors.

And President Obama traces family roots, makes a rousing campaign-like appearance in Ireland.

Back home here, the GOP field for 2012 grows larger.

Breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

One hundred and sixteen people now confirmed dead in Joplin, Missouri, the toll likely to rise. Rescue teams today pulled some survivors from the rubble, but with much of the town simply leveled and more bad weather bearing down, right now, the search-and-rescue operation is a monumental task.

Let's go to the scene. Our own Brian Todd is there in Joplin with the very latest -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you mentioned the rising death toll. That now stands at 116. We have got a rising injury toll, more than 400.

No accounting yet of the people still missing, but there are stories of survivors. You mentioned the seven survivors pulled out today. It is their stories of those and those stories of the other survivors that keep this beleaguered town going right now.


TODD (voice-over): Shell-shocked residents rattle through what was once a vibrant neighborhood. In seconds, the tornado reduced nearly a third of the city of Joplin to flattened board, brick and concrete.

Reverend C.J. Campbell was in his house, huddled in a hallway with his sister as the tornado ripped through. REV. C.J. CAMPBELL, TORNADO SURVIVOR: Entire 1,800-foot-square house completely collapsed around us within 60 seconds.

TODD: They made it out, but the house is a total loss. At St. John's Regional Medical Center, the twister's wrath was almost surreal.

(on camera): Look at this helipad. This part is empty, but if you just move to your left over here, you are going to see the wreckage of a helicopter that was just tossed on its side and twisted around. Look at the wreckage here. The front of it is just taken off. And there's the cockpit. Look at the rotors, completely gone.

(voice-over): Sergio Gomez was working admissions at the hospital when the tornado hit.

(on camera): Kind of an exposed part of the hospital. How did you make it out?

SERGIO GOMEZ, TORNADO SURVIVOR: Honestly, I wasn't really worrying about getting out. It was mostly getting all the patients safe, in a safer room.

TODD: How do you feel about losing this car? You were very attached to it?

GOMEZ: I feel really bad. I worked really hard for it. To be honest, it is probably my newest car that I ever had and the coolest car I ever had, too. I worked really hard for it. It is just a shame, really. And I have liability, so there's no way of replacing it.

TODD (voice-over): Gomez is also worried about (AUDIO GAP) now, an indication that the long painful road back for this town will be physical, emotional and economically very stressful.


TODD: And, as we mentioned, Sergio Gomez one of many people who is now worried about their economic situation, as well as their physical situation and where they are going to be living, et cetera.

We mentioned the death toll. We just found out a few minutes ago from the governor that among the people who died, among the 116 people who died, are at least a few from this hospital, the St. John's Regional Medical Center, Wolf. So, they are going to be combing through the wreckage continually tonight, throughout tomorrow, but as you can see behind me, this weather is really, really complicating things right now.

They have had driving rainstorms, thunderstorms and lightning claps here throughout the day. And the rescuers are really getting set back by that.

BLITZER: And I think we heard from Jacqui Jeras, who is also on the scene there, earlier, Brian, that they expect bad weather, even maybe worse weather tomorrow. Is that what you're hearing as well?

TODD: I am hearing it. I just spoke to Jacqui again about it, and it is bad news. I kind of shook my head when she was telling me some of this. It's the last thing these people need right now. We could have more tornadoes in this area. Some of them may be a little bit further away from here, but, yes, that could happen in this area as well.

And, you know, you talk about these rescuers who are really up against it already. If that happens, you know -- that window for finding survivors closing and it's closing fast. If that happens tomorrow, it may shut completely.

BLITZER: Let's not forget Joplin is a city of about 50,000 people, but there are some 400,000 people in the area within a 40-mile radius of Joplin, Missouri.

Brian, we will check back with you. Thank you.

The tornado carved a four-mile-long path of destruction. At one point, it may have been three-quarters-of-a-mile wide.

CNN's Tom Foreman is joining us with a closer look at this monster.

Share with us some of these images.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, you have look at it from the air a little bit to get a sense of the size we're talking about.

As we zoom into the path here, I'm going to stop it when we get just close enough. We actually measured it from end to end here. We got a little more than five miles overall. But look at the overall layout of Joplin and look at how big this swathe is that was cut through it.

We will zoom it all the way in now, and I will take you to that hospital that Brian was talking about so much there because that is a good place to start, big complex here. It employs about 1,700 people. You saw the damage. They had more than 180 patients in the hospital at that time.

John (ph), if you will come in and show some details of this picture, you can see what happened there and you can also see how many people were evacuated, more than 200 there. They did not have all the workers there at that time, obviously, all 1,700, but still several hundred.

Let's move on to take a look at one of these shots we have seen on the air numerous times today that is well worth looking at, this road. If you go driving down this road, this is a sense of what you have been seeing all day. When you have seen these pictures, it is going down this main road, so you can see the tremendous damage to the business districts there, all of the things that people normally have to rely on for purposes of recovering from a storm like this. Let's go over to the high school. This is another area we have talked about during the day, big, pristine complex, and this beautiful picture from before the storm. This is what happened to that high school. Graduation had taken place just shortly before all of this over at another location. So, they didn't have it at the high school.

Just imagine what would have happened if they had, a bit of fortune in that regard, although, obviously, all school has been canceled there from here on out as a result of that. We move down the way. I talked about the business climate and what people deal on. Look at this, Home Depot down here, another big complex. As you might imagine, that was completely smashed by everything that happened there. So, again, one of the places that people would rely on is gone.

You go up to Wal-Mart, which is not far away at all, same phenomenon, have tremendous damage done to the overall facility here. Some of the steel structure held up a bit, but only a bit. What that does do is give some hope to those searchers that Brian talked about for maybe finding people where rubble has propped against things.

Last place we are going to look at here is East Middle School, another one of the schools in question. It has about 300 students, if I remember right. I can't recall for sure. They had tremendous damage as well, although the overall structure seemed to be relatively OK at that place. Although a lot of damage to some parts where it was destroyed, lots of it held a little bit firm.

In any event, Wolf, when you look at these pictures of that overall path, that gives you an idea of just how much of the town has suffered and how much pressure will now be on the rest of the town to try to deal with all those people out of jobs, out of homes, and looking for some kind of help in the coming days -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Tom Foreman, thanks very much.

A staggering toll of death and destruction and a long, hard road to recovery for the residents of Joplin, Missouri.

Congressman Billy Long of Missouri represents that district. He is here -- at least part of that district.

Congressman, first of all, our deepest condolences to your constituents who lost family members in Joplin. Have you ever seen anything like this before in Missouri?

REP. BILLY LONG (R), MISSOURI: No, not to this devastation at all, to this extent.

The deputy director of FEMA was in town today from D.C. and they asked him. And he said maybe some of Tuscaloosa could have rivaled it. But other than that, he hadn't seen anything like this either, just total devastation. It reminds me of a movie set of a nuclear disaster. That is exactly -- maybe your news crews are used to this, but we sure haven't seen anything like this in Missouri. And I was born here. BLITZER: Trust me, Congressman, we are not used to it by any means.

And the pictures that we have been showing our viewers are heartbreaking. They are devastating.

The search-and-rescue operations, is there still hope survivors will be found, now 24 hours after the destruction?

LONG: Definitely. We found seven survivors today, the first- responders did.

And that's the number-one issue right now, is get in there and find as many people as we can, because we know they are still out there. But as the reporter said earlier, that window is closing. We had a very bad run of bad luck this morning, with more bad weather, hail, high winds.

They had to hold up search-and-rescue for an hour or two this morning, before they could get out there and start their search-and- rescue efforts. Joplin is a very resilient town, a close-knit community. It will come back. But when you are in a town of 50,000 people, this is going to affect everyone in the community. And it is going to be a long time until they get back, but they will get back.

And I can't say enough for FEMA and the status of -- the state folks and the national level. Everyone is really pitching in and put a lot of boots on the ground here. We had 400 or 500 first-responders from about a 100-mile radius this morning first thing to get out and start with search-and-rescue. And every once in a while, you will hear a siren and we kind of have a hopeful look in our eye when we hear that, because we hope they got a report of a survivor they are going after to get.

BLITZER: You are standing in front of that hospital that was devastated, virtually destroyed. I'm sure you have been there over the years on many occasions.

Did the folks manage -- the patients, the doctors, the nurses, the workers, did they manage to find safety there or did, unfortunately, some of them die?

LONG: I don't know. There were several deaths in the hospital, but I don't know who they were.

There was a nurse that reported one gentleman was pulled out of the sixth-story window. And just -- it was kind of like the movie "Twister," I guess, where the devastation is beyond description. We saw a car today wrapped around a tree and we could not tell if it was a van, a pickup, a car, completely bent around the tree.

It just -- the parking lot behind me here, I don't think you can probably see it, but there's a helicopter that came off the top of the hospital. And just it's indescribable, the power that this thing had. And I haven't heard yet if it was F-4 or F-5, but I have heard that it was probably the 12th most deadly -- I mean, the fourth most deadly tornado that this country has ever seen. And, unfortunately, the death toll is at 116 and probably expect that to rise.

BLITZER: We have been told it was an F-4, which is a powerful, powerful tornado.

Looking back on the early warning, I know there was about 24 minutes when the folks in Joplin got word that a tornado was moving in their direction. Did that early warning system work the way it was supposed to work?

LONG: I think that it did and it saved a lot of lives. And also being Sunday afternoon saved a lot of lives. Just think what if that would have been the high school full of students and the middle school full of students, instead of being on a Sunday afternoon.

But we get warnings -- we are Tornado Alley here. We are used to tornadoes. We're not used to this type of a tornado, though. So, a lot of times, people hear a tornado warning and won't seek shelter, unfortunately. This time, though, a lot of people did seek shelter.

I talked to some people that were in an IHOP and one of the gentleman made everybody go back into the kitchen. And some people said, no, I don't want to leave my food here. He got them all into the kitchen. And when they came out of the kitchen, that is all that was left of the building.

BLITZER: Is the federal government giving you what you need right now, Congressman, or more help is on the way? Tell me the response from FEMA and the federal government.

LONG: The response has been outstanding.

Speaker Boehner called me this morning and offered whatever assistance we need. Leader Pelosi called and said that everyone is in her thoughts and prayers and she offered us any assistance we need. I talked to the deputy director of FEMA. I toured Joplin with him today. And he told me that they have the state people, the regional people in today. We will have the national FEMA people in within 24 hours.

So, they are really doing the right thing. The governor declared it a disaster area early on, called in the National Guard. And that has been very beneficial to the folks here in Joplin.

BLITZER: Finally, Congressman, where were you when this tornado hit?

LONG: We were at a -- it was my daughter's 25th birthday and we were over at some friends' house. There was two or three of them have birthdays around the same time, and had just arrived over there. And then I started getting tweets and texts about the storm, and, of course, turned on the TV. And I live about 70 miles from here in Springfield. And that is where I was. We came over this morning. We didn't try and come over in the dark last night, but at the crack of dawn today, we got up and came down here and were here in daylight, and just been trying to do what little we can to try and help the people here and let them know that there are people coming to their aid.

BLITZER: And so your town of Springfield was OK?

LONG: Yes, uh-huh. We had debris in Springfield from this hospital. We had X-rays end up 60, 70 miles from here in Springfield. So, that tells you the power of this storm.

BLITZER: Amazing.

All right. Congressman, good luck to you. Good luck to all the folks in Joplin and surrounding areas of Missouri. We will stay on top of this story. Appreciate it very much.

LONG: You bet. Thank you.

BLITZER: Heartbreaking scenes of destruction. We are going to go back to Joplin, Missouri, where residents will tell us about the storm that leveled so much of their city.

And another Republican joins the field of contenders for 2012. We will tell you who's in, who's out, who's next. Stand by.

And President Obama gets a very warm embrace from the crowd in Dublin as he traces his Irish roots.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty has got the American dream on his mind. He is here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: We have huge problems with money and debt in this country right now, huge, unemployment still high, good- paying jobs continuing to be scarce. The housing market remains terrible. Home values are down on the year. A record number of properties are in foreclosure.

Banks now own 872,000 homes, according to "The New York Times," twice as many as in 2007. And they are in the process of foreclosing on a million more. Scary stuff.

Despite all this, though, most Americans believe the American dream is alive and well, according to the Pew Economic Mobility Project -- 68 percent of Americans say they have achieved or will achieve the American dream. But the poll also found that less than one-third of Americans think their personal finances are either excellent or good.

That number has declined steadily since the beginning of the recession and it does not bode well for their kids or their kids' kids. When asked if they thought their children will have a higher standard of living than they currently enjoy, fewer than half of all Americans, only 47 percent, said yes. Just two years ago, 62 percent said their kid would be better off than they are.

And those kids probably don't know what's in store for them either. In a separate poll of children aged 12 to 17 done by Junior Achievement and the Allstate Foundation, only 7 percent think they will be worse off financially than their parents. A whopping 89 percent think they will be the same or better off -- the eternal optimism of youth.

Here's the question. Does the next generation have a shot at the American dream? Go to Post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

President Obama getting a raucous rock star welcome in Dublin today before he headed to London. Ireland was the first stop on his whirlwind six-day, four-nation European tour.

Mr. Obama's great-great-great-grandfather -- you got it, great- great-great-grandfather -- left the tiny -- left a tiny Irish village for the United States back in 1850 during the great famine.

Before a cheering crowd of thousands, Mr. Obama paid tribute to Ireland's bond with the United States. Listen to this.




OBAMA: My name is Barack Obama...


OBAMA: ... of the Moneygall Obamas.


OBAMA: An American doesn't really require Irish blood to understand that ours is a proud, enduring, centuries-old relationship that we are bound by history and friendship and shared values, and that's why I have come here today as an American president to reaffirm those bonds of affection.


OBAMA: Earlier today, Michelle and I visited Moneygall where we saw my ancestral home and dropped by the local pub, and we received a very warm welcome from all the people there, including my long-lost eighth cousin, Henry. Henry now is affectionately known as Henry VIII.

(LAUGHTER) OBAMA: And it was remarkable to see the small town where a young shoemaker named Falmouth Kearney, my great-great-great-grandfather -- my grandfather's grandfather lived his early life and I was shown the records from the parish recording his birth.

This little country that inspires the biggest things, your best days are still ahead.

Our greatest triumphs in America and Ireland alike are still to come. And Ireland, if anyone ever says otherwise, if anybody ever tells you that your problems are too big, or your challenges are too great, that we can't do something, that we shouldn't even try, think about all that we've done together.

Remember, that whatever hardships the winter may bring, springtime's always just around the corner. And if they keep on arguing with you, just respond with a simple creed, yes, we can, yes, we can.


OBAMA: For all you've contributed to the character of the United States of America and the spirit of the world, thank you and may God bless the eternal friendship between our two great nations.


OBAMA: Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you, Dublin. Thank you, Ireland.



BLITZER: This footnote, by the way. Take a look at this, what happened to one of the Secret Service limos nicknamed the Beast. It got stuck at the top of the driveway as it was leaving the U.S. Embassy in Dublin. President Obama, by the way, was not in the car. No one, fortunately, was hurt.

A killer tornado deals a staggering blow to Joplin, Missouri. Amid an urgent search-and-rescue operation that is under way right now, residents tell about the incredible force of nature that flattened their homes and claim so many lives.

Plus, what it was like when the tornado struck -- the sights and the sounds of looming destruction.


BLITZER: Let's back to our top story right now: the killer twister that has absolutely devastated the city of Joplin, Missouri. It's now tied for the deadliest on record -- 116 people are confirmed killed by the twister. That total could rise. Urgent rescue efforts now under way, but the search is hampered by widespread destruction.

Some 2,000 buildings have been damaged or destroyed. The city has been cut in half.

Let's go live to CNN's Casey Wian. He's on the scene for us with the latest in Joplin -- Casey.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, those search-and-rescue efforts have been hampered all day long by persistent storms that have been moving through this area.

We just had one a couple of minutes ago that was just pounding rain, huge burst of lightning and thunder. It really -- you could feel it in your body. We spent part of today with a search-and-rescue team, part of today with residents trying to dig through the rubble of their homes. None of them have ever seen anything like this.


WIAN: This will give you an idea of the devastation caused by the tornado that ripped through Joplin, Missouri, last night. Over here, you can see cars overturned. You can see debris scattered everywhere.

Over here, you can see a tree or part of a tree has actually gone through the rear window of this car. Behind that, you can see an apartment complex. The residents say that this was actually beautiful apartment building before 6:00 p.m. Local time last night.

JAMES BLACKWOOD, TORNADO SURVIVOR: It was really just start offing with hail. I'm used to that. And then it just went insane afterwards.

JUSTIN HOWERTON, TORNADO SURVIVOR: The winds were so strong, it made my ears pop. I mean, my ears kept popping. The force, you know, the suction of it, I mean, it literally lifted up the ceiling and it dropped it back down on us.

WIAN: People are trying to grab everything they can out of their homes. And complicating the search-and-rescue effort, which is still ongoing, is the fact that another storm cell has just moved through here, bringing 60-mile-an-hour winds, quarter-sized hail. Here, you can see the downed power lines. Over there, you can see destruction as far as the eye can see.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a sad event. Money can replace a vehicle. It's more about the lives that are lost.

WIAN: Now, we have moved to a new location. This is actually a Home Depot almost flattened by this incredible tornado. The search- and-rescue teams have just arrived at this location. One of the concerns they have is a young lady here who has told us that her father and her uncle were shopping in this Home Depot when the tornado hit, and she believes they are still inside that rubble.

AUDREA OSBORN, TORNADO SURVIVOR: My dad and my uncle are in there. And I just -- I'm hoping and praying to God they are OK.

WIAN: When was the last time you heard from them? OSBORN: Before the tornado hit.


WIAN: Now, 24 hours after that tornado hit, we still do not know the fate of that young woman, that 17-year-old girl's father and uncle.

We do know that one person was rescued alive from that collapsed Home Depot. We also know that three dead bodies were pulled out of that collapsed structure. We just don't know their identities at this hour, Wolf.

BLITZER: You've covered these kinds of stories over the years. Casey, have you seen devastation like this?

WIAN: I haven't. Actually this is my first tornado that I've covered, and I've covered floods. And I'm from Southern California and covered a fair number of earthquakes. And this kind of destruction is like something I've never seen. It's really unbelievable. And even the people who live here, who go through tornadoes on a regular basis, say they've never experienced anything like this, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Casey, thanks very much. We'll check back with you.

Imagine if you were one of the 20 people who huddled inside a very dark convenience store refrigerator as the tornado struck Joplin. Listen. You can clearly hear the terror, the screams, the prayers for survival. Listen closely.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're good. We're good. We're good.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're OK. We're going to do this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Oh, help me, God. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love everyone. I love everyone, man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to be OK. We're going to be OK.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Heavenly father. Thank you, Jesus.


BLITZER: Fortunately, those people survived in that refrigerator inside that convenience store. To find out how you can help, help those devastated by the tornadoes in Missouri, go to There, you'll find all the organizations and the ways you can help those in desperate need right now.

Interrupting volcano changes President Obama's travel plans. He arrived in London much sooner than expected. You're going to find out if the fast-spreading ash plume will ground other travelers' flights all across Europe.

Is the Taliban taking deadly revenge for the killing of bin Laden? A key naval base in Pakistan comes under attack.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Pakistan's military takes on the Taliban and the consequences deadly. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What's the latest?


Well, Pakistan's interior minister says his country faces a 9/11 every single day. And in what some fear could be another revenge attack for Osama bin Laden's death, the Pakistani Taliban attacked a naval base in Karachi. At least 10 Pakistani soldiers were killed, 15 others wounded.

The mothers of detained hikers Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal promise to continue their hunger strike until Iran releases both men. The men were able to phone home briefly this weekend, and their calls lasted barely five minutes, but their families say their loved ones sounded, quote, "reasonably well." Both men are also on a hunger strike to protest their letters being withheld. Iran accuses them of being spies. The U.S. says that's meritless.

Ash from an erupting volcano in Iceland prompted President Obama's Air Force One to leave Ireland for London today instead of tomorrow. The spreading plume is expected to hit British airspace on Tuesday. The volcanic fallout closed Iceland's airspace over the weekend, igniting fears of another mass cancellation like the one that we saw last year, but aviation authorities say they don't expect that to happen.

And the Supreme Court is ordering California to reduce its swelling prison population. That could send thousands of inmates to county jails. In a 5-4 ruling, the nation's highest court says having more than 150,000 people crammed into California's prisons falls below the standard of decency. The state has two years to comply. Right now, prisoners are stacked three deep in six-by-nine-foot cells intended to hold only one person. Once every eight days or so an inmate there actually commits suicide, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Lisa, thank you.

The GOP field for the White House in 2012 getting clearer today. We're learning who's in, who's out, at least so far. But find out who tops the candidate wish list in one key state for the Republicans. And guess what? He's not even officially in the race yet.

Plus, misjudging Judgment Day. What that preacher who predicted the rapture is saying now.


BLITZER: The former Minnesota governor, Tim Pawlenty, officially announced his presidential campaign today. While the GOP race is starting to take shape, some Republicans aren't very excited about their options, at least so far.

CNN's Jim Acosta has been looking into that -- Jim.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just because the Republican field for 2012 got a little more defined in the last 48 hours doesn't mean everything is fine inside the GOP.

TIM PAWLENTY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Tim Pawlenty and I'm running for president of the United States.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Tim Pawlenty chose Iowa to plow into the race for 2012. Not too far from the nearest cornfield, the former Minnesota governor brought the crop of GOP candidates closer to harvest.

PAWLENTY: So, in my campaign, I'm going to take a different approach. I'm going to tell you the truth, and the truth is, Washington, D.C.'s broken.

ACOSTA: But another nagging truth is that some Republicans don't exactly see a GOP field of dreams. With Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels turning down a run over the weekend, conservatives would like more options.

DICK ARMEY, FREEDOMWORKS: Frankly, we're disappointed. Now, obviously, we have to start looking. And I was just saying this morning, maybe it's time to start drafting Paul Ryan.

ACOSTA: As in House budget committee chairman Paul Ryan who said no repeatedly.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: I have been very clear about this. I'm not running for president.

ACOSTA: In the crucial primary state of New Hampshire, a new CNN poll finds GOP voters nearly split: 51 percent somewhat or very satisfied and a large 43 percent somewhat or very dissatisfied with the slate of candidates. Still, party insiders believe the field is almost set. Take the names of who's in and likely in, add the next potential contenders expected to jump in or out soon, and some conservative activists like what they see.

(on camera) You're OK with this field?

BOB VANDER PLAATS, PRESIDENT/CEO, THE FAMILY LEADER: I'm OK with this field. You know, this isn't my first rodeo. I participated in 2007 and '08 as well. And a lot of people weren't all that excited about that field.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Across the pond, President Obama doesn't seem to be getting too excited either. In Ireland, he downed a pint of Guinness and then got a stout reception from thousands gathered in the streets of Dublin. Unfortunately for Republicans, the president's speech was delivered at the same time as the Pawlenty announcement.

OBAMA: I feel even more at home after that pint that I had.

ACOSTA (on camera) : There are other reasons why the GOP field is almost set. Big names like Chris Christie and Jeb Bush have again said no. Then there's another reason. Money. With the president expected to raise close to $1 billion for his re-election bid, it's only going to get more difficult for a Republican to make a late entry into the race -- Wolf.


BLITZER: All right. Jim, thank you.

There certainly would seem to be a lot of candidates for the Republicans to pick from. But some find the choice to be, shall we say, underwhelming? Our chief political analyst Gloria Borger is here with more on this part of the story.

I would say this and we've covered politics for some time, you never know. It's still pretty early.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. You never know. There are a lot of people saying that they're disappointed. Obviously, some of the establishment front runners like Mitch Daniels and Haley Barbour decided not to run. But you and I remember, Wolf, lots of presidential campaigns where we thought the field wasn't that terrific.

Now the one that I remember the most is back in 1992. We used to talk about how the favorites in the Democratic field did not get in. Take a look at this. In 1992, everybody thought Mario Cuomo, Dick Gephardt and, of course, Al Gore, they were going to get in and they were going to beat George H.W. Bush. Of course, they decided not to get in. Then in the fall of 1991, as this campaign heated up, you had Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas got in. People thought, OK, that's fine. And then you had three more -- four more candidates join in. One of them, of course, was the relatively unknown Democratic governor from Arkansas, Bill Clinton. People didn't know who he was really. They know he had given a couple of lousy speeches.

And lo and behold, in the end, it was Bill Clinton who started talking about the economy, making Bush 41 look out of touch. And the next thing you know, he's president of the United States.

BLITZER: Let's not forget: at this point in 1991, George H.W. Bush had much better numbers than President Obama.

BORGER: Right. You know, I was talking to a Republican today who actually worked on that campaign. He said to me, "You know, I remember how cocky we were back in the 1992 campaign, thinking there was no way the Democrats were going to beat us."

And look at these numbers. They had good reason to be optimistic about their chances. In 1991, unemployment, 4.5 percent; presidential approval, 74 percent. That was after the Gulf War, of course.

Now, if you look, today's unemployment, 9 percent; presidential approval, 52 percent. So, obviously, if you're just a Republican looking at this, you'd say, you know what? This nomination is worth having if you look at the state of the economy right now. And most people in this country believe that it's headed down the wrong track.

So, if unemployment remains high, whomever the Republican candidate is is going to have a real shot at the presidency.

BLITZER: If the White House guys get really cocky right now, they'd be making a huge mistake.

BORGER: They're not. I'll tell you that.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Gas prices have been soaring for weeks, but just in time for Memorial Day weekend, they are finally going down a little bit. Will it last, though?

And what do you do when the rapture you predicted simply doesn't come to pass? The preacher faces Judgment Day. Stand by.


BLITZER: News just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa Sylvester is back. She's monitoring the latest development and other top stories -- Lisa.

SYLVESTER: Wolf, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is in a Texas hospital after suffering a heart attack. Doctors say he felt chest pains yesterday while visiting Austin for his son's graduation from the University of Texas. They say they found a blocked artery which they treated, and Mr. Fayyad is said to be now in good condition.

Gas prices have dropped about nine cents in the past two weeks. That's according to the Lumberg Survey. AAA says gas is now about $3.84 a gallon on average, and it credits declining oil prices, which had soared over unrest in the Middle East, the Midwest flooding and refinery outages.

And don't light up if you are heading to New York City's Central Park or you could pay a $50 fine. And outdoor smoking ban signed into law by Mayor Michael Bloomberg took effect today. Smoking is now illegal in the Big Apple's 1,700 parks and along its 14 miles of public beaches. Smoking, by the way, is also banned in New York City's Times Square.

And the nation's streets may be just a little bit safer. Preliminary figures from the FBI showed violent crime dropped 5.5 percent last year. Specifically, murders and rapes fell just over 4 percent while robberies went down 9.5 percent. The biggest overall drop in violent crime was in the southeast, but it's a little bit of a different story in the northeast, which saw murders go up more than 8 percent -- Wolf .

BLITZER: Getting back to the Palestinian Authority prime minister, Salam Fayyad, we wish him, of course, a speedy, speedy recovery. He's a very good man.

Let's check back with Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is: "Does the next generation have a shot at the American dream?"

Mike in Dayton, Ohio writes, "I'm sick of hearing about the next generation inheriting a deficit. My parents and grandparents survived a Great Depression and a world war, and they succeeded. If the next generation is willing to put down their smart phones, remove their headphones, and quite waiting for their inheritance long enough to work for a living, they might just realize that American dream."

David in Virginia writes, "They do, but only if they understand that achieving the American dream is based on ambition, hard work and personal accountability. I mean, if you're 16, ready to drop out of high school, convinced that ultimately, the government's obligated to provide you with all your wants and needs, some rich guy ought to pay for them, and that somehow all of this is someone else's fault, I recommend you aim for some other country's dream."

Mariah in South Carolina: "I just graduated from law school with student loans. I can't find a job. Nor can the majority of my classmates. Most of my generation is not getting married right out of undergraduate school like our parents did, so there's no one to split the bills with either. Tack on escalating gas and food prices, and how are we supposed to afford a mortgage, as well? It scares me to death. I fear the answer to your question is no."

Layne in Illinois writes, "You're in the news business. Look around. Anyone who's being totally honest these days knows that this country is headed to third world status. Future generations won't have time for dreams. It will be all they can do to put food in their stomachs and find shelter from the elements. The dream left town with the current crop of greed-mongers from Wall Street and corporate America."

Alex in Washington says, "Not if this generation focuses more on Xbox and Facebook instead of applying themselves to doing well in school."

And R. says, "If the American dream is to work for the Department of Motor Vehicles and sit on your backside and collect a government handout, then yes, the American dream is alive and well."

If you want to read more on this, go to my blog:

BLITZER: People responding in big numbers on this question, Jack?

CAFFERTY: Quite a few, yes.

BLITZER: OK. I'm not surprised. Thank you.

Stunned witnesses say a nuclear bomb could not have caused as much damage. One of the worst tornadoes this country has ever seen tore through Joplin, Missouri, but will Tuesday bring even more destruction? That's coming up at the top of the hour on "JOHN KING USA."

And failed prophecy. Does the preacher who predicted last weekend's rapture, the one that never happened, obviously, does he have a new message? Stand by.


BLITZER: Check it out, if you want to follow me on Twitter, @WolfBlitzerCNN. You can also follow us on Facebook: CNN Situation Room. You might like to know what's going on behind the scenes: @WolfBlitzerCNN on Twitter.

Here's a closer look at some of this hour's "Hot Shots."

In Tokyo, a group of Buddhist monks demonstrated against nuclear power plants.

In London, the Labour Party leader, Edward Miliband sits and talks with students during a school visit.

In Paris, the tennis spectators take a break from the French Open to enjoy lunch on the grass. I'd like to do that.

And in Ireland, young people eagerly await President Obama while showing off their Obama shirts. There it is.

"Hot Shots," pictures coming in from around the world. The preacher who predicted last weekend's rapture says he's stunned -- stunned -- it didn't come to pass. But as CNN's Jeanne Moos reports, everyone wants to know, what's his message now?


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What was good news for most of us...

KATHIE LEE GIFFORD, CO-HOST, NBC'S "THE TODAY SHOW": The world didn't come to an end.

BARBARA WALTERS, CO-HOST, ABC'S "THE VIEW": The world did not end.

MOOS: ... was not such good news for the leader predicting Judgment Day. Knock, knock. Who's there? Someone from "The International Business Times," looking for egg on the face of Harold Camping.

HAROLD CAMPING, PREDICTED JUDGMENT DAY: Give me a name. There will be no interviews at all. This is a big deal, a big deal, and I've got to think it out.

MOOS (on camera): If you think it's bad coming to work after the weekend, imagine coming back to work when you're the guy who led people into believing in the rapture.

(voice-over) Those dire blow-the-trumpet warnings on the Family Radio Web site vanished as if they'd been raptured, replaced with something much more down-to-earth. A tired New Yorker who spent $140,000 of his own money on an ad campaign warning of Judgment Day showed up in Times Square as the hour of doom passed. Robert Fitzpatrick said he didn't understand why nothing had happened.


MOOS: But the crowd wasn't giving him a break from being mocked.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only thing that's going to happen is that it's going to rain, that's it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The rain going to create the earthquake.

MOOS: Taiwanese animators mocked the leader of the rapture believers, showing him high-fiving Jesus. Kids on YouTube rapped about rapture.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (rapping): R.D., Rapture Day. Look right here. It's 6:02. I'm still alive, and so are you.

MOOS: In response to Judgment Day billboards, nonbelievers raised enough money to post a counter billboard in Greensboro, North Carolina, saying, "That was awkward."

(on camera) OK, so the rapture didn't happen. But if it had happened, it might have looked like this.

(voice-over) A concept of all these people ascending to heaven with their clothes left behind inspired a flurry of rapture prank photos: clothing left on a motorcycle, the dog left behind on a leash. From the toilet to the subway steps, complete with ear buds.

The rapture theme was played up on commuter trains...


MOOS: ... and even pool side, at least one outfit was so fresh it was still smoking. And this couch potato was left behind, his family ruptured by the rapture.

Jeanne Moos, CNN...

CAMPING: No, no. No interviews.

MOOS: ... New York.


BLITZER: That does it for me. Thanks very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.