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Violent Storms in the Midwest; Painful Decisions

Aired May 24, 2011 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks Wolf and good evening everyone. We're live in Joplin, Missouri tonight where the death toll and the death toll stands at 122 this evening. Everyone here we talked to today everyone said they are certain that death toll here now at 122, as we just said, will climb higher as this shocked community digs deeper into the rubble.

Also severe weather, a threat of storms here but other severe weather across the Midwest, right now a tornado reported on the ground approaching the Oklahoma City metropolitan area. West of there, in Canadian County, Oklahoma, two fatalities are reported. Our meteorologist Chad Myers is in the CNN Severe Weather Center. Let's get straight to Chad for the latest on the Oklahoma (INAUDIBLE) Chad.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, John, you know we have an entire line of weather all the way from Kansas all the way down into Texas right across the Red River. We have multiple -- I counted eight a little bit ago -- severe thunderstorms that all rotating all could put down tornadoes at any time. We do know that big tornadoes have been on the ground, tornadoes in excess of 150 miles per hour to the west of Oklahoma City.

One just to the west of El Reno into Oklahoma, that's just a suburb of Oklahoma City and then out toward Guthrie. A little bit farther to the south tornado emergency down near Norman, Oklahoma to the west of there and into Moore with a big tornado on the ground and then another one down near Washington. That tornado has been on the ground for a while. It is going to be one long night, because it is certainly not over, and in fact, with the heat of the day now just being 6:00 Central Time, it is just getting going for places east of I-35 into Tulsa and eventually, yes, that word Joplin right there, as the weather just rakes across Oklahoma and into the eastern sections of Oklahoma County and into Oklahoma City.

That's where the humidity is even higher. That could make the storms get a little bit stronger. If they stay together as individual super cell tornadoes, there will be -- there's one, two, see how they're all separate? Now if they all line up, they will fight for the energy and there won't be as many big tornadoes, but we know that there have been fatalities today and there will continue to be fatalities tonight as long as these storms all stay together in individual cells that all rotate one after the other after the other as they move across from the southwest to the northeast eventually up into Joplin in probably three or four hours. KING: We'll stay in touch with Chad and we'll stay on top of the Oklahoma story. We're trying to get the governor of Oklahoma on the line as we speak. We'll get you back here as soon as we can as we track that breaking news. And here in Missouri, we'll show you a lot of devastation tonight and we'll try to describe just what we saw as we wondered through the shadowed tornado impact zone today and I'm certain we'll fail to do justice to the power of the storm and the death of the pain and destruction it left behind.


RICK MORGAN, SURVIVED TORNADO IN PRODUCE LOCKER: It is like Armageddon. I mean, it's like everything you think is, like, real and solid is suddenly -- everything is blowing up. As we stood, the door was opened on the produce cooler and looking into the rest of the store, and it just exploded.


KING: When we arrived here this morning, we were told search and rescue teams had just heard noises at the Wal-Mart that was decimated by the tornado. At this hour, still no definitive word on that search, and tonight Mayor Michael Woolston tells us this hour or later this evening he'll have to make a painful but necessary transition in consultation with other officials in the search and rescue phase and shift to recovery operations.


MAYOR MIKE WOOLSTON, JOPLIN, MISSOURI: My fear, I guess, is that we won't be able to get to some place before time and they expire before we can get to them. And you know you'll never know what that number is, if any, but that's a concern.


KING: But the exhausted search and rescue teams coming here from all across the state and elsewhere in the country spent the day digging and hoping. Throughout the day crews have been working at the twisted wreckage of a Home Depot store where people were seeking shelter on Sunday night only to be buried when the walls and the roof came down on top of them. Just now the authorities said that site is cleared and there are, quote, "no more people". CNN's Anderson Cooper is with us now with more on that. Among your reporting today out with these search and rescue teams and they understand now 48 hours all of this rubble as you look around it on top of people, they know they're racing the clock.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, they're racing the clock and racing the weather. (INAUDIBLE) really hampered their efforts yesterday. They had to pull people off of sites often. I was with the Missouri (INAUDIBLE) at Home Depot today and (INAUDIBLE) the front walls of the Home Depot basically collapsed and the fatalities that they found and they said they recovered seven people yesterday they found. They recovered one body today. One person was found alive I'm told in the Home Depot yesterday. But this team only found dead bodies. They have dogs there which are especially trained to find the living, and they've been working those dogs over the site, four of them, but it is grim work and they have not been finding what they had hoped.

KING: And when you talk to these teams they're veterans of tornadoes in this state, they're veterans of other national disasters. They go back and forth, and when they see this, it's stunning to hear them just talk about the impact, the power of this storm that turned over trees, that destroyed -- this is a school, was a school.


KING: It's stunning when you talk to them.

COOPER: And thankfully, I mean they've got heavier moving equipment. At Home Depot they have a number of (INAUDIBLE) Jackhammers. They were able to drill through (INAUDIBLE) drill through these walls itself because these front walls are incredibly thick. Two slabs of concrete with insulation in between and a lot of rebar in that concrete, very well made, so they actually have to drill through to find if there was anyone still underneath and (INAUDIBLE) to move those walls away (INAUDIBLE) and again, it's just been brutal (INAUDIBLE).

KING: And what else strikes you from the day here? I spent a lot of time in the neighborhood over the hill here. People finally having a chance to go back to their homes and there is a mix of profound sadness, but also when they see the destruction, people are -- they're just grateful that they're still alive.

COOPER: Yes, I spent some time today with a woman who was going through her mom's house, what's left of her mom's house. Her mom survived, 80 years old, she was at her sister's House. They both, two elderly women survived in the bathtub, and the daughter was Sally Smith, was basically just going through trying to find something that she could give back to her mom. Her mom felt that her home was totally destroyed. She felt if she could find some mementos, it would sort of, you know would make her mom happy a little bit to know that something survived. But in the end, you know people, I hear it all over today, these are just things. And you know we have each other and we're still alive. Sally Smith (INAUDIBLE) said life is good. You know she still believes that life is good.

KING: All right Anderson Cooper will be here throughout the day and back of course "AC 360" 10:00 Eastern Time tonight. Anderson thanks for your time. Want to just make note you're hearing a lot of noises here. There are some planes flying overhead but there also are some cranes and forklifts and the like over here. A power generator is right over there. I don't know if we can turn a camera to see it in time, a transmission grid right there, a transformer grid was destroyed in the storm. And you can see the heavy equipment brought in here to clean up that. That is one of the challenges here, also one of the challenges as they debate whether to go to the recovery phase from search and rescue.

That would allow heavy bulldozers to go in on sites where right now they still worry to a degree there could be survivors underneath. As we track the breaking news here in Joplin, of course we're also on top of breaking news in Oklahoma. Tornadoes reported on the ground in the Oklahoma City area. The Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin joins us now on the telephone from Oklahoma City. And Governor, let me just start first and foremost what are you being told about any fatalities or significant damage so far?

GOV. MARY FALLIN, OKLAHOMA (via phone): Well we're actually right in the middle of our storm. The fire engines just went off a few moments ago here at the capital city about two minutes ago. And so we're still tracking all of our storms. We don't have any counts right now of any fatalities, but we do know that we've had at least four tornadoes and there are still some right now on the ground in different areas of Oklahoma.

KING: And, Governor, what are the meteorologists telling you, your state of emergency management people telling you about the scope? How many tornadoes to expect if more than one and how broad the area where people need to be on alert?

FALLIN: Well they need to be on alert right now and be watching the news and stay on top of this weather. It's a very dangerous storm. We anticipate the storm is going to last all night. It's a wide storm that goes clear from Texas up to the Kansas border. It's making a wide sweep through Oklahoma. And at one time a few moments ago, we had two, three, four tornadoes on the ground at once, and several of them were huge tornadoes that were on the ground, and we were seeing debris that was coming up. We were seeing flashes of lightning on the ground which means it's hitting, and we do know we've had some damage on the ground yet, but once again, we're all still watching the storms and trying to keep safe until this big storm is over.

KING: And, Governor, if anybody in your state, anybody in this area, you know sometimes people get a little foolish. They see a storm, they want to go out and take some pictures. We've already heard now two fatalities reported, perhaps more from the Canadian County Emergency Management Agency. Obviously we're watching this play out. What would you say to anybody in your state who may be listening out there right now on the radio or thinking about getting in their car to go out and shoot some pictures of this?

FALLIN: I'd tell them to stay inside, watch their TVs, listen to their radios, stay underground if you can and take the storm very serious. We've had on the news they've been showing pictures of the tornadoes on the ground. They're huge also and you know this is a very dangerous time right now. We have all of our emergency management personnel in the emergency headquarters along with the highway patrol, the first responders, the Salvation Army, Red Cross, have all the different agencies, health department all lined up, tracking the storms, doing everything we can to keep people safe.

And of course we'll be out on the ground as soon as the storms pass to do everything we can to help in the recovery effort. And our highway patrol has actually been going up and down our highways warning them with their lights and sirens to get off the highways. It passed through a major highway in Oklahoma. It's called I-40, and passed on that highway and part of that highway is closed right now. And we're still waiting on some reports from damage in that area.

KING: And you say you're waiting on some reports. I just want to circle back for anybody who might not have been with us at the beginning of the conversation. What are you being told about the potential reach and the potential impact of this -- the single tornado that we know has touched the ground in your area and the other storms that we know are nearby?

FALLIN: What am I being told about that?

KING: Yes, Governor.

FALLIN: Oh. Well, as I said, we do have some damage that's on the ground in the communities. I'm sitting here watching our television right now looking at a tornado that's already hit on the ground and some that are still up in the air coming down. But we have communities that have lost homes and damages done. We have some workers and first responders that are already out on the sites right now.

Of course we're going to be sending all of our people out to survey damage, and there are people out right now surveying that damage. But we're still in the middle of a big storm, and so we're trying to warn as many people as we can to pay attention to the weather, be safe, and get all of our people strategically out where they need to be, where there's been immediate damage and destruction.

KING: Excellent advice there from the governor of Oklahoma, Governor Mary Fallin. Governor, thank you for your time in the middle of this challenge for you tonight. We'll keep tracking the breaking news in Oklahoma, tornadoes on the ground there, at least two fatalities confirmed.

As you can see it's getting windy here as well in Joplin, Missouri, more severe weather all across the Midwest, in Oklahoma, in Kansas, coming from Missouri tonight we are told. We're keeping an eye on that.

Ahead here tonight more of the toll here in Joplin, the breaking news in this city tonight, the death toll has been increased to 122 now, 122, sure to go higher. When we come back, the pain and the emotions of people returning to their homes, and we'll take you on a tour of this school behind me, what was a school behind me the principal talks of one young student killed in the tornado and comforts others who can't believe what happened here.


KING: Live pictures here you're looking -- this is Joplin, Missouri. Look at the devastation and the destruction. People driving by, some of them going back to their homes tonight. This just one glimpse, one glimpse and I'm sad to say it gets much worse when you turn into the residential neighborhoods. Here's one picture vividly illustrating the fury of this storm. It's a mattress we can show you blown into a tree, hanging above a pile of debris that used to be a building. Here's another picture. A storm victim sits on the stairway of Joplin's Memorial Hall as another man holds his IV bag. Many of the powerful images, just a few of the powerful images here tonight. And tonight we continue to watch tornadoes on the ground in Oklahoma near Oklahoma City.

That's about 220 miles southwest of here in Joplin where at least 122 people now confirmed dead. Searchers still looking for some 1,500 people unaccounted for after Sunday night's devastating tornado. President Obama is traveling in Europe but will be here in Joplin on Sunday. This was his message today from London.


BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The American people are by your side. We're going to stay there until every home is repaired, until every neighborhood is rebuilt, until every business is back on its feet. That's my commitment and that's the American people's commitment.


KING: Joplin's Emergency Management Agency says several hundred people were injured by the tornado, among them a 14-year-old boy with an open skull fracture. He was in a pickup truck the tornado literally picked up and slammed into the wall of a Home Depot store. After six hours of surgery, he's in an induced coma, his father constantly at his side.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just even the smallest responses give me hope.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You see him like this, what goes through your mind thinking of what he was before this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It really disheartens me a little bit that he's here, but in this state because I'm used to seeing him happy and so vibrant. He's a very energetic boy.


KING: Brian Todd is with me here now in Joplin, joining us live. And Brian, you listened to that story, that father's story, one of the many emotional stories of parents who are hoping and praying their children recover, in some cases hoping and praying they can find their missing children.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John, and this father really had a perspective on all that. He said look he realizes that some people outside the hospital room may be a little resentful saying you know you got to keep your son at least, and so many people are looking for their loved ones. He completely understands that. He says his heart goes out to them. He said look, I count myself as one of the lucky ones. And here's, you know he's sitting by a young man who's in a medically induced coma, with an open skull fracture, not sure if he's going to make it.

The doctors say the prognosis is good, but these things really hand in the balance sometimes. This father was incredibly measured and stoic. It was really something just to listen to him and of course listening to what he described about his son, how he plays soccer, he rides horses, such a vibrant young kid. It really got to us when we were there.

KING: It's a remarkable story. And Brian, any sense? What are the doctors telling him to look for? Is it 24 hours, 48 hours? When will he know the prognosis?

TODD: You know with these neurological injuries, the doctor told me they can't give him a timeline right now. He is really looking for every squeeze of the hand, which he does get. He gets an occasional squeeze of the hand. Sometimes the young man will kick the side of his bed. And the doctors tell us that he can hear the conversation. So those are all positive signs that they're really hoping to build upon.

There's really no timeline for when they can bring him out of this coma because I think they're waiting for the brain to ease the swelling a little bit. They had to, you know, cut the skull open. He lost part of the skull in the accident. So really no timeline on when he might come out of this coma -- John.

KING: Brian Todd live with us here tonight in Joplin. Thank you, Brian. You know the destruction is so stunning. People who have lived here for decades, for decades say they can't tell where they are in some neighborhoods. Residents allowed to return to their homes today are trying to find out what they had left among their prized possessions. People like Ruth Gentile (ph), a teenager who was home alone when the house started shaking and then collapsed.


RUTH GENTILE, HOME ALONE WHEN TORNADO HIT: I could hear like the metal ripping off the walls, and I could hear stuff flying around, and I couldn't, like, breathe. I thought I was like -- I thought I was going to die like (INAUDIBLE).


KING: Just across the street Michelle Martin (ph) and Eddie Winniger (ph), they were stunned to see how the tornado ripped through their home and grateful, grateful they made a last-minute decision to go camping this weekend.


MICHELLE MARTIN, HOME DESTROYED BY TORNADO: The Lord told us to go to the lake and go camping even though we couldn't afford it. We went ahead and went, anyways. And this is where we would have been at. We would have lost some -- there are six of us. We would have lost some up there. And so yes, we're very thankful that you know we weren't here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The way the bathroom looks you think if you were here?

M. MARTIN: And the way the bathroom went, yes, the wall being off and everything was sucked up out of -- yes, we would have been -- we would have -- it would have been in your eye because we wouldn't (INAUDIBLE). You know we would have been on top of the kids or you know -- I just don't even want to think about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you guys get a hold of FEMA yet?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. We're still trying to get the important stuff out of our house.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It hasn't hit me yet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you look around what went through your mind?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well I was praising the Lord because there were still roofs on our houses. And then I got a better close look and I realized there weren't roofs on our houses, and I screamed, I lost it in front of my kids. I've never seen it like this in Joplin before. I've never seen (INAUDIBLE) like this. I mean, I went over there a block, and I don't (INAUDIBLE) I don't understand how people are doing it, I really don't. I don't understand because I can barely keep it together for myself and see (INAUDIBLE) going on with other people.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All I care about is souls. I care less about all this stuff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You going to be all right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, yes, we're doing good, really. Yes, this stuff can be replaced.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Also thank you to the Lord.


KING: Just remarkable people. Some of the many remarkable people in this community who are keeping their spirits up, keeping their faith despite the devastation and the loss of just about everything they own. Let's continue the conversation now with the man on the front lines and the first responder (INAUDIBLE), the chief of the Joplin Fire Department, Mitch Randles. And Chief, let me start with this question.

I spoke to the mayor earlier today who said sometime tonight a painful decision would have to be made most likely to shift from search and rescue to the recovery operation, which would essentially be saying you think you've reached the point where you've either found everybody or those that you are not going to be find cannot be found alive. Are we at that point?

MITCH RANDLES, JOPLIN FIRE DEPARTMENT: No, I don't believe we're at that point and I'm not willing to give up the search effort as long as there is a possibility that any individual is out there and capable of being rescued or able to be rescued alive. I am not willing to give up and concede that, no.

KING: We have heard ballpark numbers of 1,500 unaccounted for. Is that still a rough number that you're operating under? Do you have a better number than that?

RANDLES: The unaccounted for I am not keeping track of, I am merely managing the search and rescue efforts. Other members of the Emergency Operations Center are taking care of the -- you know, the missing, the reported missing, and that's something that I'm not involved with, so I really couldn't speak to that number.

KING: Understood, can you give us a sense of what happened today, the numbers in terms of finding anybody alive today as part of the search and rescue, recovering bodies today?

RANDLES: Yes, we did have actually two individuals found in two different structures here in town. Both were recovered and transported to the hospital alive and for treatment.

KING: And when we arrived this morning, Senator McCaskill told us that she had heard from the Kansas City Rescue Squad, that was here helping, efforts that there had heard perhaps some noises at the Walmart. And they were trying to see if there was somebody there. Any sense of what happened there?

RANDLES: Well we did get a report early this morning that there was a tapping sound from there. We did send in two of the Urban Search and Rescue teams, and that ended up being unfounded. It ended up just being a water leak that had been dripping on, you know, some of the material in the rubble, and what sounded like tapping to the folks that were there, but it ended up being, you know, basically an invalid report.

KING: And Chief Randles, lastly, just give me a sense of the number of people you have on the ground here helping with the search operations.

RANDLES: Well, today I've got over 400 firefighter and EMS personnel in the search and recovery portion of this. I've also got 200 other trained volunteers that are out helping the fire and EMS crews with the search. You know, so I've got a little over 600. And then on top of that I've got the different (INAUDIBLE) tasks force from around the area.

I had Missouri Task Force One, Kansas Task Force, Oklahoma Task Force One, and earlier yesterday had the Arkansas Task Force up here assisting us. And we, you know we really appreciate all of those groups and individuals that have sent members and teams up here to assist us. Without them, we couldn't be as far as we are and, you know I really just cannot tell you how much we appreciate the outpouring, the support for our department and our city.

KING: Chief, we appreciate your time tonight on a busy day. We appreciate you spending some time with us. We certainly wish you the best in the hours and the days ahead. And we thank you, sir.

We're going to shift now from Joplin, Missouri. We're going to go back to the breaking news in Oklahoma. Tornadoes on the ground there, on the phone we have Sheriff Randall Edwards. He's with the Canadian County Oklahoma Sheriff's Department. Sheriff, you had a tornado touch down in your county. What's the latest, sir?

SHERIFF RANDALL EDWARDS, EL RENO, OKLAHOMA (via phone): Well we've actually had several tornadoes touch down. We've got at least two confirmed fatalities here in Canadian County, multiple homes destroyed, we've got multiple injured as well as missing. Right now we're conducting search and rescue operations to try to determine exactly how many are missing and how many are injured as well as any other fatalities.

KING: It's a tough question to ask, but when you say you have search and rescue teams out and multiple homes, multiple homes damaged, do you have a sense of the universe, if you will, of the number of homes where you're going to be searching tonight?

EDWARDS: I have no idea. The tornadoes just went through our county less than an hour ago, and it's just too early to tell. I know that we've got multiple residential areas that are -- have homes destroyed in them. I couldn't give you the extent as to how many.

KING: And have the tornadoes passed through, sir? Are your guys out there now? Are they in safe conditions or are they out there still in the middle of severe weather?

EDWARDS: No, the tornadoes have passed through our county into northwest Oklahoma County at this point.

KING: And in -- they're out there now, you know you're talking about at least two confirmed fatalities and you know some residential areas have been hit. Do you have a sense of people whether you have any -- often there are gas leaks after something like this or severe power outages after something like this --

EDWARDS: We've got multiple gas leaks. One of our gas plants Devon Energy has got a gas leak in the western part of our county where we're at near the location -- one of the fatalities were. I don't think the fatality was connected with Devon, but I do know that there's been a reported gas leak at their plant.

KING: And the folks in your community, Sheriff, did they get a good warning that this was coming?

EDWARDS: Yes, sir. We've got real good weather tracking here in Oklahoma, and we have had warning for those that was monitoring. The sirens blew off here in the county seat, El Reno. We had about as much warning as possible considering the circumstances. It just -- those that were not watching television or out of audible range of the sirens, I'm sure, are the ones that got caught in it.


EDWARDS: I know Interstate 40 runs through our county, and we've had several injured -- it's up to the dozens that was driving down I- 40 that was blown off of I-40. That's one of the fatalities that we have.

KING: Sheriff Randall Edwards speaking to us from Canadian County, Oklahoma. Two fatalities confirmed. You just heard the sheriff say dozens injured on I-40 as tornadoes, tornadoes -- plural -- passed through that county. We're in Joplin, Missouri tonight, obviously breaking news in Oklahoma. Severe weather throughout this region, we're monitoring the severe storms not only in Oklahoma and Missouri. Throughout -- we'll keep you posted throughout the hour.

And up next, up next, a powerful story here, the cross is standing here at St. Mary's but not much else. We'll tour the school with the principal trying to make sense of all this and meet the priest who climbed into his bathtub as the rectory (ph) started to crumble.


KING: We're standing outside one of the many anchors in this community simply devastated, devastated by the tornado. This here, if you see the entrance right there, that's the flag of the warriors. The warriors are St. Mary's School. That's supposed to be the entrance to the school.

And where that air conditioner is -- if you can see it over my shoulder, that's the principal's office. The school has been devastated. The school runs this way, the fifth grade, the fourth grade, the third grade, the kindergarten. It goes over. On the other side of it, St. Mary's Catholic School, then the Catholic Church as well. That's about all that's left of this community. That's about all that's left in this community.

Now, in the rectory over there when the storm hit, the tornado hit, was the pastor inside. Here's the devastation, here's the storm. He climbs into the bathtub. Listen.


REV. JUSTIN MONAGHAN, ST. MARY'S CATHOLIC CHURCH: I got into the bathtub face down to try to cover my head, and I heard this noise. And I thought, oh, what is happening? I laid there. I just prayed and I just said, thy will be done, and I decided to wait until the end of the noise, and then I opened that door and everything was blocking. It was all covered there.


KING: Reverend Monaghan trapped inside for nearly an hour before parishioners rescued him. You see him there speaking with CNN's Jacqui Jeras who is with us now. Just a remarkable story. And when you look at it, you just look at this, and look -- you can't even find the rectory.

JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You can't. I mean, there's literally -- just the wall there in the bathroom. And he said you always here the meteorologist say the bathroom is the safest place to be. And so, he said he got in the tub and did just that, and it saved his life.

He said he was so covered in rubble, he had to take a piece of wood -- you know, not unlike a 2x4 like this stuff sitting around, and hold it up into the air so they could see that he was there. But they couldn't find him. So, it took so much time to move pieces off of him and move pieces of wire to get him to safety.

Unbelievably, not a scratch on him. He's safe, shaken up. He said God got him through it.

KING: God got him through it. A lot of folks said that when you look at this school and you go through the residential neighborhoods, they look a lot like this. These homes are devastated, the winds are picking up, it's getting more cloudy. We hear about the awful weather in Oklahoma, the threat of more weather here.

As someone who does this for a living, what is the sense that if more severe weather comes through here with many of the homes damaged, these people are in trouble?

JERAS: These people are in trouble. They really have to get out of these areas. There are many buildings that have been compromised. You know, there's pieces of metal. It's not going to take a tornado to cause more damage in Joplin. I mean, 40-mile-an-hour winds can take this insulation and unstable buildings and cause more problems. You really have to be underground and in a basement and people really need to evacuate the area.

They issued a curfew at 9:00, and that's because they think these thunderstorms are going to be rolling through here after that.

KING: And the people here -- many people lived here for decades. And they have tornadoes all the time. They say they've never seen anything like this.

Are we overusing those terms? You're someone who tracks these storms all the time.

JERAS: No, not overusing at all. You know, I've seen a lot of tornadoes. I've seen a lot of tornado damage. I don't I've ever seen -- you see spotty damage with tornadoes, a house here, a house there, or maybe one line that is, you know, devastated, but this is an entire area.

I mean, all you can see is the cross on top of that church and you can see the hospital, and everything else, it's almost like somebody took a lawnmower and moved it all the way through, just nothing in between. KING: It's one of the most remarkable things people say, as they point to buildings and from their house or from this school area, they say I can't normally see or they can drive up the streets and they say they didn't know where they were because they can't recognize the general markers that they usually drive by. Fascinating and depressing.

JERAS: But a community effort and some good news out of it today. I think that provided a lot of hope and courage for people to hear that someone did survive through the tornado. And all these people are coming. As you could see them there, they're trying to save anything. And a young boy found the pastor's bible today, and he was happy to find that.

KING: Great news (ph) to know. Jacqui Jeras, thanks for that.

There's a lot of faith, a lot of faith, a lot of people coming back to this church, a lot of students crying as they came back to the church.

A neighbor just down the hill, when he was cleaning up his yard, he found a bag, one of those zipped bags like you see at the bank, $5,000 in it. The name of the church, St. Mary's, was written on it. He walked it up and returned it to the church community, people up here during the cleanup effort.

A bit earlier today, when I first arrived in town, we bumped into Senator Claire McCaskill. She, among the many political leaders, is looking at the damage. Senator McCaskill is saying she's grateful for the attention here now, grateful for the assistance here now, grateful for all the first responders trying to see if there's anybody out there still alive. But she also said, from looking up above, she understands the economic devastation here and she's hoping the attention doesn't pass in a few days.


SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: We went up -- our first chance because the weather hadn't cooperated. Our first chance to get above it -- went up with the governor and the head of FEMA this morning.

And it is -- from the air, you get the scope of what happened because you realize that there is this green, and in the middle of the green, there is this wide path. It looks like a stave mill, you know, just brown as far as the eye can see. It's -- and frankly, on the ground, you get a sense of the loss that is emotional. The pictures don't do it justice.

KING: When you see these homes, that one just ripped off the top, in some places, the house is gone.

MCCASKILL: Well, the top two floors of the hospital are gone, just gone. And you don't see that very often, where a tornado is so powerful on a building that large will do that kind of damage. A high school from the air is just destroyed. We've got brick houses that are gone. Brick houses, not shingled houses.

And so, it's -- and frankly, what worries me is that after the cameras are gone, the economic base of this community has been devastated. I mean, think of all the people that work in that hospital. What are they supposed to do? Where do they get their paychecks? Do the doctors leave town that work in that hospital, and what does that mean to the community of Joplin?

So, while we're all focused, as we should be, on the loss of human life and the property damage today, we've got to really get busy with federal help so that these businesses get rebuilt and the schools are ready for school in September. There's a lot of work to be done, and we've got to stay on it once this fades from the headlines.


KING: Now where you see us speaking to Senator McCaskill there, the residential neighborhood, there should be a big park there. You could see what's left of the playground, you could see up on the hill of the residential communities, the houses all devastated.

Among those trying to assess just how much damage was done beyond the 122 people we know have been killed, beyond those who had been injured, how long it will take to recover -- is the mayor, Mike Woolston.


MAYOR MIKE WOOLSTON, JOPLIN, MISSOURI: This is a place we've been before. We have a history of tornadoes here. But it's been probably 40 years since we've had one on this scale. And even at that, it was not as much damage as this. But we're used to tornadoes, severe weather here. It will take us a while but we'll rebuild.

KING: And you say you're used to them. I mean, look at the -- have you ever seen anything like that?

WOOLSTON: We're used to tornadoes. We're not used to that level of damage.

KING: I mean, that's a car that's just been jerked like a toy.

WOOLSTON: And in my driving around in the city and over flying the city, there are a hundred of those cars all over town. Just this hospital parking lot over here probably has 50. So, it's going to be a big effort to clean up, but we'll get there.

KING: What have you learned about your community in the last 48 hours?

WOOLSTON: They're a pretty tough group. We've had -- of course, we had shelters open for people who lost their homes, that kind of thing. Didn't have a lot of folks staying in the shelter the first night or two given the structures we think are damaged. And we think it's because they've been taken in by family, they've been taken in by friends. I'm sure there are some that haven't taken by complete strangers.

And so, this is -- it's not just a city, it's a community. And this community will reach out to help their neighbors, and that's very rewarding to see.

KING: Where were you when this happened?

WOOLSTON: I was at my home in the northeast part of town. I heard the sirens, didn't think the weather looked too bad. I stepped out on my front porch and literally heard the storm probably about a half mile south of my home. So, I suffered no damage and I'm realizing today how terribly lucky I was.

KING: And take me through that. You're the mayor, you're at home, and you look out and you think, OK, it's bad, but -- how did it first start to come to you, first reports, second reports where you think, oh, my?

WOOLSTON: Actually, I heard the warnings on the radio, heard the sirens. I stepped out, it rained pretty hard, but didn't think much about that.

My electricity went out so I waited at home for a few minutes to see if it came back on. It didn't. So, I left and I started hearing news reports. So, I left and went down to the emergency operations center which was already set up, and then began getting reports of the damage and only took some vehicle tours during the night Sunday night. I could see some of the damage, but because of the darkness difficult to see the extent.

And then after looking in the daylight, you begin to realize how extreme it is.

KING: Did you see the house tilted like that and how the top of the house is just blown off?


KING: I mean, you say you've had tornadoes before, but anything that looks like this?

WOOLSTON: I said nothing with this level of damage.

KING: In turn you say some people gone back, sometimes two or three times. Do you have, I guess, confidence level that the universe of people still out there in terms of looking around and stuff, or was that still a question mark whether people still trapped or buried here?

WOOLSTON: I'm fairly confident we've found those of most that can be found. Hard to say depending upon the building they're in at the time. But I just want to make sure we make every effort to find people that we can while they're still alive. My fear, I guess, is that we won't be able to get to someplace in time and they expire before we can get to them. And, you know, you'll never know what that number is, if any, but that's a concern.

KING: Thanks again.

WOOLSTON: You bet.

KING: Appreciate it.

WOOLSTON: Thanks, John.


KING: That's Mayor Mike Woolston a bit earlier today here in Joplin. As you can see, the winds picking up here. More severe weather expected in Joplin tonight.

Also, severe weather in Oklahoma. Deadly tornadoes. At least two dead, dozens injured there in the Oklahoma City area. We're staying on top of that breaking news.

And when we come back, also, the day's other big headlines, including the president overseas dining with the queen.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Joe Johns in Washington. John King will be right back from Joplin, Missouri.

We also have an update on the tornadoes that have killed at least two people this afternoon in Oklahoma. Right now, there's a tornado on the ground in Shawnee, Oklahoma.

There's some other news you need to know right now.

CNN crews in Tripoli report hearing at least seven thunderous explosions so far tonight. They come the night after the most concentrated bombardment of the Libyan capital since start of the NATO mission.

President Obama and the first lady join Queen Elizabeth and members of the royal family for a state banquet evening in London tonight. The president addresses parliament tomorrow.

A Pentagon spokesman confirms wreckage of the helicopter used in the Osama bin Laden raid is back in the United States. Pictures of the wreckage reveal it's a previously secret chopper with stealth quality.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mentioned the raid during today's speech before a joint meeting of Congress.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Congratulations, America. Congratulations, Mr. President. You got bin Laden. Good riddance!



JOHNS: Up next, John King, more from him in Joplin, Missouri. He'll speak with Missouri Congressman Billy Long about the devastation and the cleanup.


KING: Back live in Joplin, Missouri, tonight -- 48 hours now since the deadly tornado hit here.

Congressman Billy Long has been touring his district, his community today.

You had a view from up above, an aerial tour today.

REP. BILLY LONG (R), MISSOURI: We took a helicopter view.

KING: What goes through your mind when you look down?

LONG: It just adds to the magnitude of it. You see the devastation on the ground, when you tour on the ground, which we did all day yesterday. But when you get up in the air from a helicopter, you see the true magnitude, a half-mile wide, six miles long, just absolutely devastating. Like everything was cleared cut.

Just reminds me of a movie set of a nuclear disaster. It looks like a nuclear bomb has gone off.

KING: A hundred and twenty-two confirmed dead, 1,500 roughly unaccounted for. What's the greatest need in this community tonight?

LONG: Well, the same thing that it was last night and that is finding the survivors. We stood here 24 hours ago talking to news media, saying that we need to find survivors. We found two today and there are still survivors out there, and we had 400 to 500 first responders out all day today, digging and looking. And so, we still feel confident there are people to be rescued and those people need to be rescued.

KING: And you still feel confident, because that becomes a debate, 48 hours. It's sad, it's a tough conversation to have. But it does become a debate.

LONG: The window's closing, John. The window is closing. But we need to keep after it, because I still have confidence.

There's so many structures, 8,000 structures destroyed, and there's some that they haven't gotten to the basements of yet. So, we still hold out hope that we can find some of the missing.

KING: What is the vulnerability of this community? As the winds pick up tonight, and we know there's more weather coming, we can't be quite sure what it's going to be -- will it just be thunderstorms, will there be more tornadoes?

We're in a devastated stretch here. You can go a few blocks that way, and there are people whose homes who have been barely touched or barely touched at all. But if you get severe weather with all this debris and metal, what's the vulnerability in this community?

LONG: All we can do is pray for good weather. There's a lot of vulnerability, of course, that all we can do is pray that it doesn't hit here again and be hopeful of that.

KING: And the president's going to come on Sunday?

LONG: Yes, the president, the governor, both senators, myself, have all said the same thing. We're going to do everything possible to rebuild Joplin, Missouri, and we're going to stay on the task. When the TV crews roll out and the radio stations go away, Joplin, Missouri, will still be here, and it's going to be a long, long process.

But it's a very close-knit community. And when you only have 50,000 people and you're close-knit, you lose 122 people, everyone in the community was touched by that. And so, it's just -- it's truly devastating.

But we need to give them hope, we need to be here, show them we care, and let them know where we can go for assistance.

Where do you get your mail delivered? You're one of those 8,000 people, you have medicine coming in the mail, how do you get your mail delivered when you don't have a home anymore?

KING: Do people have enough shelter? Do you have needs in that department?

LONG: No, the shelter is in really good shape. In this part of the country, people are pretty (INAUDIBLE). A lot of them are FEMA people. I believe we have 144 last night and with the Red Cross. The Red Cross has been phenomenal. Everyone, FEMA, give them a tip of the hat, on a scale of one to 10, I give them a 12.

The day I started driving down here yesterday morning, the governor had already declared it a disaster area and FEMA hit the ground shortly after that. The White House liaison called me and said, you'll have anything you need. So, FEMA's been great, the local folks have been great. So, everybody is just pulling together right now.

KING: Amid the sadness. That's good to here, because often after devastations like this, you hear tensions or friction. It's good to hear that, Congressman. Appreciate your time tonight as we assess this and we wish your community.

LONG: I appreciate you being here.

KING: We wish your community the best.

And we won't go away. We'll come back. I promise you that.

LONG: Appreciate it.

KING: When we come back, the latest on the deadly tornadoes in Oklahoma tonight. Plus, severe weather coming back to Missouri. Stay with us.


KING: Winds picking up here again in Joplin, Missouri, but the more severe weather tonight is in Oklahoma. Let's go to the weather center and Chad Myers -- Chad.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: John, yes, you had the sheriff or under sheriff of Canadian County on a little bit ago.

Let me show you some pictures. That's what Canadian County, Oklahoma, looks like right now. There's a storm shelter right there. Those people were in that storm shelter when that house literally went away.

There are still tornadoes on the ground in Oklahoma now, especially north of Oklahoma City, kind of moving up towards Tulsa, and then also south of Oklahoma City, a little bit farther down, from about Norman down towards Pauls Valley.

Now, just think about this for a second because all of this weather is still moving to the Northeast. And John, you are right there. And all of this, an hour or two, will be up in towards the Joplin-Pittsburg area. This is up from Tulsa, right up the turnpike toward I-44, right to Joplin, Missouri.

Again, you have pieces of plywood on the ground. You have shingles on the ground. A 60-mile-per-hour wind will blow that debris around and create a lot of damage again. And people have to be out of that disaster zone tonight before the weather gets there, because storms that have already tore up all those houses, leaving everything just debris to be picked up by the next storm, even if it's not a tornado, and I probably think it probably won't be a tornado for Joplin, things will calm down a little bit by then, but debris will blow around and all the crews need to be out of there. All the rescuers need to be out of there, because it's going to become a dangerous place tonight -- John.

KING: Chad Myers for us in the severe weather center. He'll be there throughout the night as we track the storms in Oklahoma.

As Chad mentioned, they're moving on to other places, including here. It's a bit more windy in Joplin and it's getting more cloudy. They know some weather's coming. We hope Chad's right and it's not severe, because this community is trying to recover, trying to recover amid a great deal of pain.

Last night when I was still in Washington, we met over the satellite, Stephen Jones. He's the principal of this school behind me. So when we arrived today, we wanted to come here to get a look at what he described last night, the devastation of this school, and to me, one of the remarkable leaders of this community.


STEPHEN JONES, PRINCIPAL, ST. MARY'S ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: We found the flag, so we put that up. We're going through things and looking and we found a few things. All of our school files, all of our school records.

So, we know what grades you got, OK? We can tell you, all right? And I'm pretty sure you're going to be a sixth grader next year.

There's a lot that can be salvaged in here. Those books look completely dry.

KING: But no other rooms like this where you still have everything on the walls?

JONES: No, no other room that has walls like this.


KING: Two hundred and ten students at St. Mary's. That's the cross at the church -- the cross, all that's left standing of the church, 210 students at this school. They believe they lost one, a pre-kindergarten student, 4 years old, who was with her father, with her father. This community has a lot of work to do rebuilding, but they promise to rebuild this school.

That's all for us right now. "IN THE ARENA" starts right now.