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Six Massive Explosions in Tripoli; "Israel Has No Better Friend than U.S."; Storms Could Hit Joplin Soon; Volcanic Ash CAUSEs Travel Woes; Muhammad Ali Pleas For Hikers' Release

Aired May 24, 2011 - 17:15   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you very much. Happening now, breaking news. The race to dig through the tornado wreckage in Missouri before another potentially violent storm hits. This hour, yet more deaths and new danger at the seat of this record-breaking disaster. Hundreds of people are missing in Joplin, Missouri, right now, including a 1-year-old child. We're following their stories and the scramble to find them on the ground and on the internet as well.

And the state of U.S.-Israeli relations after Prime Minister Netanyahu's address to Congress. Are the tensions of recent days any worse? Are the prospects for Mid-East peace any better. I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in the Situation Room.

BLITZER: But first, the breaking news this hour. A large tornado has been spotted on the ground in Oklahoma and storm ravaged Joplin, Missouri, is at risk of being hit by severe weather as well. New twisters, large hail, and damaging winds are possible in the coming hours. Searchers in Joplin have been taking advantage of the break in the bad weather for a few hours now. Seventeen people had been pulled alive from the rubble as of last night but the death toll is far greater, up to 118 right now and that makes this the deadliest single tornado on record in the United States since the Weather Service began keeping records 60 years ago.

Almost 500 people have been killed by tornados in this country so far this year including one in that storm in Kansas over the weekend. This security video camera, by the way, shows -- it gives another look at the power of these twisters and how much damage they can do literally in an instant.

Now, more on the twister reported on the ground in Oklahoma just minutes ago. The danger, potentially, to Joplin, Missouri, as well. Let's bring in our severe weather expert, Chad Myers. He's monitoring this. It -- it's the last thing these folks needed right now, Chad.

CHAD MYERS, SEVERE WEATHER EXPERT, CNN: Exactly, Wolf, it's just west of El Reno, this tornado we're talking about, on I-40, crossing I-40. So, people are into their cars, driving into a cell, driving into a storm, not even realizing they're driving into a tornado. There will be cars off the road, there will be cars blown away. There will be tractor trails blown over. This cell, right now, is heading to Calumet, Oklahoma, another town that is in danger here in the next 10 minutes of being hit by a big tornado. We're talking something at least 2 or 3 on the scale of E-F storm. We know it's about a half a mile wide on the ground, moving across the Interstate I-40 right there. There's Oklahoma City. So, west of there and moving into Calumet.

We have our eyes on it from all different angles. We have our IMAP men up and driving back and forth looking for the cells. We also have helicopter shots from KOCO here looking at the cell, just very dark. The problem with the cells today, I think this is going to be the problem for many of the -- many of the hours that we see this, Wolf, is that they're called wrapped in rain. There's so much rain around the tornado that you can't literally see it and, so, even if you're looking outside, looking and say oh, there's nothing coming my way except rain, it just looks like rain but, in fact, it's not.

There will be tornados on the ground. This is only the second tornado of the day. We know there will be many more and there may be 20 to 50 tornados today before it's all done. This is a high risk day and even a high risk possibilities for Joplin, Missouri, in four to six hours. It will take a while. Joplin is way up there but there are still cells that will keep going all night going with many tornados on the ground. Have that NOAA Weather Radio on today.

BLITZER: We know there are always tornados, every year there are a lot of tornados. But, as you have pointed out to our viewers, this year they seem to be so much more powerful than over recent years.

MYERS: Yes. Many times we get storms that line up and they're called squall line storms. Squall line storms make wind damage. They're all in a line and they all fight for the energy. They all fight for moisture. The storms today are not in the line. There's one there, there's one there, there's another here and another here. Those, as they are separated from the other cells, are called supercell tornados or supercell thunderstorms.

They rotate because they're not being affected by all of the other storms around them. They are their individual self and they roll through with big tornados and that's what we've seen three or four times, three or four events this year, where major tornados, 200 miles per hour and, at some points even greater than that, have rolled through big towns. Joplin, officially, was only rated 198. I don't know who's splitting hairs between 198 and 200 miles per hour, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, I don't think anyone could tell the difference. We're going to get back to you. Let us know what the latest is on these tornados, Chad Myers doing his excellent work for us as he always does. Let's go to the disaster zone right now. Our own Brian Todd is in Joplin. Now, what's the latest, Brian, on the search and rescue operation?

BRIAN TODD, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: They're ongoing Wolf, of course they're working 24/7 trying to go through some of these properties, some of these damaged areas. They're working on a grid system, that's what they started out working at, just going by foot, neighborhood by neighborhood, block by block. The weather may complicate things later on today.

You heard Chad talking about the tornado watch in this general area of the country but right here in Joplin we may get thunderstorms later tonight -- late tonight, which could complicate the rescue efforts. Getting some more information, also, on the death toll, Wolf, of the 118 people right now reported killed. Eleven of them died in one place, the Greenbriar Nursing Home where 10 residents and one staff member were killed. Two people from that nursing home remain in critical condition.

Now, we talked about the injured, the dead, about several hundred people were injured but about 1500 people remain unaccounted for and that's what the rescuers are searching for right now. However, one city official said that as they open up some of these areas later on and people start trickling back to their homes or what was left of their homes, then that number of unaccounted for people should dwindle. Meanwhile, the City Manager, Mark Rorh spoke more at length about the rescue efforts.


MARK ROHR, CITY MANAGER, JOPLIN, MISSOURI: We are still on search and rescue mode and will be for the foreseeable future. We are working on that and have had a wonderful outpouring of support from volunteers coming into our community to affect that search and rescue and we are involved in that and, hopefully, we will get a little cooperation at least so far today with the weather in order to do that as efficiently as possible.


TODD: Now, one official said that they -- by late tonight, by the time the sun goes down tonight, they hoped to be finished with their primary and secondary rescue efforts. We're going to show you kind of what they have to deal with. Look at this area in here. I mean, the landscape tells you everything. They've got to go through collapsed buildings, roofs that were caved in and in buildings such as that they are going to have to try to find any kind of void, any pocket where someone might have a breath of life left.

It's a painstaking process. It takes a long, long time so they're not ready to give up on any of this yet, Wolf, but you can see that just with the landscape the way it is, the topography, and the nature of these buildings, the flattened boards, brick, and mortar all over the place, it's hard just to walk and now they've got the weather to worry about later on tonight. So, that's something that we're going to be keeping tabs on as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm a little confused why they -- they think that this 1500 number, those people still missing, listed officially as missing, why that would dwindle as folks get back to see their homes.

TODD: Well, they said that a lot of people have left town or have kind of been just not been -- you know, not been able to be in touch with their loved ones as they have searched for a place to stay. Now, remember, cell phone service is almost non-existent in most of this area. You know, e-mail, Blackberry service also very, very spotty. So traditional, you know, and more modern methods of communication are just not available to a lot of people and when they maybe leave town or, you know, try to go to someplace relatively close to here to find some shelter they're having a difficult time communicating with their loved ones.

So, they think that maybe when people start to trickle back, circulate back into this area, maybe that number will dwindle.

BLITZER: Let's hope it does. Dwindle is good. Brian, we'll get back to you. Thank you. President Obama will get a firsthand look at the tornado damage in Joplin. He is now scheduled to visit the disaster zone this coming Sunday after returning from his trip overseas. The President took time out from his official meetings in England today to talk about the storm devastation back home.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I want everybody in Joplin, everybody in Missouri, everybody in Minnesota, everybody across the Midwest to know that we are here for you. 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.


BLITZER: People in Joplin and across the country are turning to social media to try to get information about missing loved ones. A 1- 1/2 year old boy named Skylar is one of about 1500 people still unaccounted for. He apparently got lost during the chaos after the tornado on Sunday. We'll have more ahead on the missing. We'll talk to a woman who is desperately searching for her 16-year-old son.

When the tornado came barreling through Joplin about 48 hours ago people sought cover anywhere they could find it, including a refrigerator and a freezer inside a local pancake house. CNN's Casey Wian is joining us now from Joplin with more on this part of this story. Amazing stories of survival, Casey.

CASEY WIAN, CORRESPONDANT, CNN: It really is, Wolf, we met a man today who will not admit to being a hero but he helped rescue three dozen people who were eating and working in an IHOP when the tornado hit.


DANNY KHATIB, IHOP DISTRICT MANAGER: (INAUDIBLE) just start to just clean some of the debris around, you know.

WIAN: Danny Khatib is the manager of this demolished IHOP restaurant in Joplin, Missouri. He was on duty when the tornado struck Sunday.

KHATIB: It started getting dark, was hailing outside, of course rain, a lot of rain and the siren went off and we seen it, you know, the tornado watch. We're used to this kind of stuff usually, I mean, kind of, so wasn't very scared in the beginning but, after that, just kept getting worse and worse. WIAN: Inside, 30 customers and 6 employees.

KHATIB: Debris started hitting the windows and stuff and you could hear the noises before the window breaks and stuff. Everybody got scared and stuff. We thought the best way to go, go to the back and hide. Everybody went through this way inside to the back, just away from the window, away from any glasses or, you know, so nobody would get hurt.

WIAN: What were you hearing?

KHATIB: Just a lot of -- a lot of noise just like a train passing through and a lot of noise. People gathered and there were too many so they were crowded up here. They managed to get inside the walk-in and inside the freezer so, as you see, it wouldn't take many people.

WIAN: Fifteen in the refrigerator, fifteen in the freezer, and the rest huddled outside. Imagine being one of the fifteen people who were crammed inside this walk-in refrigerator waiting out the tornado. It had to be even scarier because they were no light and they were in here for about five minutes hoping and praying.

Once the noise stopped, customers and employees got out and surveyed the damage. It had to be shocking to see near total devastation alongside plates of food that remained on the table.

KHATIB: We think we got lucky, you know, no one got hurt and everybody was fine.

WIAN: Khatib's house was also destroyed, yet, two days after the tornado this Syrian immigrant has nothing but kind words for his adopted town.

KHATIB: People come all together and they make through it, so, I'm very proud of Joplin people and our community here, so.

WIAN: As for the future of the restaurant, is it going to be rebuilt?

KHATIB: Definitely it is going to come back, better than before.


WIAN: Now two of the people that were in that IHOP eating dinner Sunday night were actually members of the Missouri State Legislature, Wolf, very happy to be alive thanks in part to the efforts of Danny, the restaurant manager. Wolf?

BLITZER: Good for him, a real hero indeed. All right, thanks very much for that, Casey Wian, we'll check back with you.

A Joplin pastor believes he knows why he survived the tornado that destroyed his church. He's sharing his unique story about the power of prayer. Stand by for that. And the Israeli Prime Minister enjoys a love fest up on Capitol Hill today, stayed sort of cool toward President's Obama's vision for Middle East peace.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER, ISRAEL: Israel will not return to the indefensible boundaries of 1967.




WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're just being told there was a major explosion in Tripoli, the Libyan capital.

CNN's Nima Elbagir is on the scene for us.

So, what has just happened, Nima?

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, less than 24 hours, Wolf, since the heaviest NATO bombardment we've had here so far, and already we are hearing -- we had six explosions coming from the facility of the Gadhafi Bab al-Aziziyah compound, which is the same direction of the strikes were coming from yesterday. We still have -- we still got jets circling overhead, anti-aircraft fire. The strike does not yet seem to be over, but it seems to be hitting the same location that they were striking yesterday, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. It looks like they're maybe going after Moammar Gadhafi. We'll see. We'll check back with you. Nima, thanks very much.

Let's check in with Jack right now. He's following the president's trip abroad. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, "THE CAFFERTY FILE": It's just a thought and I know these trips are planned way in advance, but what message is conveyed by pictures of President Obama downing a pint of Guinness and laughing it up with the Irish people or playing ping pong with the British prime minister while the people of Joplin, Missouri, search through the wreckage of their lives looking for dead family members?

It is estimated that 80 million people could be affected by the continuing threat of severe weather. It could impact cities like Omaha, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Wichita, Kansas, and yes, Joplin, Missouri, could get hit yet again.

We have already experienced the worst tornado outbreak in the last 50 years. Meanwhile, we've airlifted the first family and the gang that travels with them to Europe for six days of hobnobbing with various heads of state, eating the finest foods, drinking the finest wines, while Mother Nature tears the hearts out of innocent people's lives in central America.

Remember Katrina and the pathetic response of the Bush administration, the utter destruction of the city of New Orleans? In the back of my mind, I can't help but think that voters remember well Katrina when they stepped into the booth in 2008 and elected America's first African-American president -- like I said, it's just a thought.

The question is this: What message is sent to the people of Joplin, Missouri, by the president's trip to Europe?

Go to, and post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: You know, Jack, he is going to go there on Sunday after he returns from Europe.

CAFFERTY: I'm aware of that, Wolf.

BLITZER: OK. Thanks, Jack.

Here in Washington, a strong reaffirmation of a close personal bond between the United States and Israel. The Israeli Prime Benjamin Netanyahu addressing a joint meeting of the United States Congress only days after some tensions were ignited between the two allies.

Our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash is up on Capitol Hill. She watched it all unfold. She's got the details.

Pretty enthusiastic reception, Dana, for the prime minister, I should say.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's an understatement, Wolf. You know, this is the sixth time that an Israeli prime minister has addressed a joint session of Congress, a second time for Benjamin Netanyahu. And the speech that generated more than two dozen standing ovations was designed to show that despite some public differences in the past week with the president, the U.S. needs Israel and vice versa.


BASH (voice-over): The Israeli prime minister strolled into the House chamber practically buoyant from the rapturous bipartisan greeting, and played off the overwhelmingly friendly audience, saying this about peace with Palestinians.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I will be prepared to make a far-reaching compromise.

BASH: But, with conditions.

NETANYAHU: It's time for President Abbas stand before his people and say, "I will accept a Jewish state." And those six words will convince the people of Israel that they have a true partner for peace.

BASH: And he demanded Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas dissolve his recent pact with Hamas, which the U.S. calls a terrorist group.

NETANYAHU: Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by the Palestinian version of al Qaeda. That we will not do.

BASH: Until now, Prime Minister Netanyahu's five-day visit was marked by an icy meeting with President Obama, and anger over Mr. Obama's public call for Israel to return to borders before the 1967 war with land swaps.

Here a stark contrast. Lawmakers in both parties made clear on this issue that they are on Israel's side.

NETANYAHU: Israel will not return to the indefensible boundaries of 1967.

BASH: And while the prime minister reiterated his demand for a united Jerusalem --

NETANYAHU: Jerusalem must never again be divided.

BASH: He also promised to make what he called painful compromises towards peace, saying for the first time publicly, according to Israeli officials, he's willing to give up West Bank settlements.

NETANYAHU: In any real peace agreement, in any peace agreement that ends the conflict, some settlements will end up beyond Israeli's border.

BASH: Palestinian officials quickly dismissed the speech.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I felt really this was not a proposal for peace. It was more talking about war than about peace.

BASH: Still, this address was not intended to break new ground. It was a prime minister comfortable in his surroundings trying to illustrate that Israel's bond with the U.S. is still strong.

NETANYAHU: Israel has no better friend than America and America has no better friend than Israel.


BASH: Getting the peace process back on track is, of course, a top priority for the U.S., both the Obama administration and Congress, and there's a great deal of concern about growing international support for a United Nation vote in September to recognize Palestinian statehood. And, Wolf, that concern is that it could take away some of Israel's leverage and any peace talks.

And as you know, Obama officials are saying that that is why the president tried to publicly to push Israel to make some concessions now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, that's what they are saying, indeed. Dana, thanks very much.

Foreign leaders certainly have a long history of speaking to joint meetings of Congress. Great Britain and France have addressed Congress the most often, eight times each. Mexican dignitaries have addressed Congress eight times. Leaders from Italy and Ireland have made each made six congressional speeches. Now, Prime Minister Netanyahu, it's the seventh time that an Israeli leader has addressed a joints meeting of the United States Congress.

I'm sitting down, by the way, with Prime Minister Netanyahu later tonight. Our interview will air tomorrow here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

There's much more in on the deadly tornado in Joplin, Missouri. Just ahead, I'll speak with a senator from the state who has surveyed the damage up close.

Plus, the boxing great Mohammed Ali now making a personal plea to Iran. We're going to tell you why.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Let's get back to the breaking news this hour. We're tracking the radar and a fear of another monster tornado. A twister reported just a short while ago on the ground in Oklahoma. You're looking at chopper video that's just coming courtesy of our affiliates on the ground.

These are scenes that -- you can see the dark clouds there. We are getting ready for potentially another tornado there. There is another tornado and the storms are very, very serious. This coming only 48 hours after what happened in Joplin, Missouri -- now facing the possibility itself of more severe weather.

The death toll from Sunday's monster twister in Joplin now is up to 118. Experts estimate that the damage to insure buildings and homes, businesses, cars could be as high as $3 billion. That's an initial estimate.

Let's get another take of what's going on in Joplin, Missouri.

Missouri Senator Roy Blunt has just toured the damage from this tornado. He's joining us on the phone.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

What did you see? What was it like?

SEN. ROY BLUNT (R), MISSOURI (via telephone): Well, Wolf, thanks for taking the time to talk about this. I was there most of the day today and I've been in Joplin hundreds of times. It's about an hour from where I live. It's in my old congressional district.

And the most amazing thing to me was how every single street looked just the same. The landmarks and the area hit by the tornado were gone. Every street, no matter what had been there before was just piles of rubble. It wasn't like a tornado where a roof is blown off every other house and a tree is down in the yard. This is incredibly destructive and it's -- it probably destroyed about 2,000 homes and lots of businesses.

And we've got great volunteers coming in from all over the state and in fact I think from around the country to try to help find people and to help take care of people.

BLITZER: We've been reporting that 1,500 people are listed as missing right now, although they hoped that folks would get back to their homes and find some of them. What do you know about this part of the story, the search and rescue operation?

BLUNT: Well, I don't think they really know. I know that talking to the fire chief today, they found one other person alive earlier today. As I was leaving -- as I was leaving one area, they thought maybe they were hearing some noise from a Walmart, a collapsed Walmart building that might be somebody pounding on pipes there. I know that they were taking the last runs through that with dogs today to see if they could get a sense that there was anybody else there.

I think they are very uncertain about numbers. A lot of people have probably gone to the family that lived close or somebody picked them up, and they just don't know how many people they are looking for at this point.

And one of the -- one of the efforts is try to begin to figure out who is still missing. There was a nursing home that was destroyed and not all of those people have been accounted for yet. Though, they were taken out of the nursing home, but then to try to get them out of the area, I think, was a challenge.

I talked to one set of volunteers, Wolf, that had a friend of there's who had gone to Home Depot with a couple of very young children, his two young children. Those three bodies were found yesterday and the -- you know, the mother who thought she was sending -- somebody was going to Home Depot to maybe pick up a light bulb is now without the family that I'm sure she loved so much.

And there are lots of stories like that, lots of people will be impacted by this devastating tornado.

BLITZER: Such heartbreaking stories indeed.

The initial estimates we're just getting in. You just heard me reported $3 billion to reconstruct the devastation in Joplin and the surrounding areas. Now, Eric Cantor, the majority leader in the House says the federal government should provide assistance to the people in Missouri, but he wants there to be cuts in other federal spending in order to justify providing this financial assistance to the people in Missouri. What do you think about that?

BLUNT: Well, I do think this is an area where federal taxpayers want to come in and be helpful. These programs that we've established for this are designed to do exactly that, but they're never funded for this kind of disaster and, by the way, a lot of those millions of reconstruction will happen through insurance and other things, but I do know that -- I do believe that Eric later today said that he's already working hard as I know he would be to find where those off sets could come.

This is a priority, and I think that Congress will make it. The other tornadoes and the flood this spring, one of our priorities to figure out how we fund the programs that we've already set out there, but you don't expect to have this kind of call on the need for them that they're going to have because of what's happened this spring, and one of the big areas of cost will clearly be Joplin, Missouri.

BLITZER: Certainly will be. Senator, good luck over there. Heart goes out to all the folks in Missouri who have suffered so much and be careful. Bad weather is on the way.

BLUNT: Thanks to all the people around the country who are responding and helping those families and others in Joplin that are struggling.

BLITZER: Yes, in a moment, we're going to tell our viewers how they can help if they want to help people in Missouri and elsewhere. Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri. Thanks very much.

St. Mary Parish is just one of the many buildings flattened by the tornado, but its pastor managed to survive. Our meteorologist, Jacqui Jeras, is in Joplin right now in this very dramatic story -- Jacqui.

JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Wolf, it's providing so much hope and encouragement for people who've been affected by this disaster. They really need to hear some good news out of all of this. The 70- year-old pastor was able to walk out of this devastation without a scratch.


JERAS: This was the building you were in?


JERAS (voice-over): There's almost nothing left but rubble of Father Justin Monaghan behind St. Mary's Catholic Church where he served his community for the past 15 years. He survived the tornado by seeking haven and what he had always heard was the safest place, the bathroom.

MONAGHAN: I got in the bathtub, face down, tried to cover my head, and I heard this noise, and I thought, oh, what is happening. I laid there. I just prayed and said if 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. It was all covered there.

JERAS: He waited there, trapped for nearly an hour after the tornado had passed before his parishioners managed to find him.

MONAGHAN: And I hollered at the top of my voice because it was watered but making noise. I said, where are you? And I pulled some kind of a board like you see the boards there. I pulled one off and I put it in the air.

JERAS: Amazingly, he was uninjured and says God got him through the storm.

What was going through your mind at the time? You said you were praying?

MONAGHAN: I was. And you know, for some reason, I was OK. I said, you know, God, if this is what's meant to be, I said, you know, how much I love you. JERAS: The parishioners who have shown up to help are also leaning heavily on their faith.

BOB ESSNER, PARISHIONER OF 29 YEARS: Sometimes, you think that it happens to bring people closer together and help you put life into perspective.

JERAS: And while there is nearly nothing left of the church, the metal cross stands tall over miles of devastation.

CAROLYN MARSHALL, PARISHIONER OF FIVE YEARS: I saw the cross yesterday passing through nearby, I thought what power -- how powerful, and it gives us hope that God is still with us.

JERAS: Father Monaghan says Joplin is a faith-based community, but many still ask why they've been burdened with such a terrible tragedy.

MONAGHAN: God allows things to happen, and we don't know why, but when we look back, we always hear the good things that happen as a result.


JERAS (on-camera): And some of those good things are still happening right now at St. Mary's Catholic Church. You can see it's become a gathering spot for the parishioners here, and they've also been going through this rubble trying to save anything they can. In fact, a 10- year-old boy today found the pastor's bible, and he was very happy to receive that.

Believe it or not, this church has been hit by a tornado before, Wolf. That happened back in the late 1980s. Much of the building was damaged, but that cross, still standing since the 1940s.

BLITZER: What a heartbreaking story indeed. Thanks. Jacqui. Thanks very much. Please give our best to all of those people there.

You can help. You can help right now. To find out what you can do, how to help those who have been devastated by these tornadoes in Missouri, go to You'll find all the organizations and the ways you can help those in need. I recommend you do it and do it now.

Stand-by. We'll talk to the mother of a 16-year-old boy missing since the monster tornado hit Joplin. She's been through a lot in the last few hours alone.

And it's likely to be a mega hit movie. Will "The Hangover" sequel be derailed, though, by a lawsuit? Stick around to find out.


BLITZER: much More on the deadly tornado in Joplin, Missouri in just a moment, but first, Lisa Sylvester is here. She's monitoring some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. What's going on? LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Well, airlines and air traffic controllers across Europe are bracing for the wrap of a dense cloud of ash spewing from a volcano in Iceland. The cloud now spreading east and south has already reached London's Heathrow's Airport and is forecast to fully engulf all British air space in just a matter of hours. Five hundred flights are being cancelled today. That's more than double the number previously anticipated.

Boxing great, Muhammad Ali, is joining the families of two American hikers jailed in Iran for almost two years in calling for their release. The heavy-weight champion took part in an event right here in Washington appealing to the country to free Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, also on hand, the third hiker, Sarah Shourd, who is released in September. The two men are currently awaiting trial on spying charges. U.S. officials maintain they are innocent.

And the mastermind behind the hit reality TV shows, including "Survivor" and the "Apprentice" is now taking on a new genre, "The Bible." Mark Burnett is going to be producing a scripted drama on the History Channel based on the Christian holy book. He says the series will include popular biblical stories such as Noah's arc, but also some lesser known details (ph).

And the judge says the much anticipated release of the new movie, "The Hangover 2" this holiday weekend will not be delayed by a pending lawsuit against its production company. Warner Brothers is being sued by the man who gave boxer, Mike Tyson, his facial tattoo. He says it was illegally reproduced in the film. The case will continue despite the release, and the Time Warner is the parent company to both Warner Brothers and (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: Copyright infringement, I guess, that's the argument that they're making. Lisa, thanks very much.

We got some breaking news right now. Chad Myers is working the new tornado that's just rolling through Oklahoma. What are you learning, Chad.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: This is the tornado that went across I-40 as a very large wedged tornado, which means it looks literally like a wedge with the bottom cut off, with the bottom being maybe a half mile wide. This tornado right now, Wolf, it's hard to see, a little bit wrapped in rain. I'll go to the radar until I can actually maybe get a little bit of a better shot here. It's just to the northwest of Oklahoma City.

Piedmont, Oklahoma, you need to take cover now, all the way that northwest expressway. This is moving from about ElReno, just about one mile north of ElReno as it went over U.S. navy one. It is now going to continue right into the Piedmont, Oklahoma region. The town is in danger at this point in time for a tornado that would at least be 150 miles per hour if not bigger than that. I just saw this about a minute and a half ago, but it wasn't wrapped in rain.

And Wolf, what that means is that even though we know there's a tornado in there somewhere, rain is now shrouding like pulling a shower curtain in front of that tornado. Rain is now covering that tornado proper. We know it's there. We know it's headed to Piedmont, Oklahoma. If you're anywhere near that area between ElReno and Piedmont, you need to be in a safe place now. This is a very large tornado on the ground.

BLITZER: And define a safe place, Chad.

MYERS: Well, in Oklahoma, I lived there for 2 1/2 years, there are very few basements. The safest place is inside your home, in between you and as many walls and the outside as you can. Think about this. Don't be on the very outside edge of your house where there is a window right there and you can see outside. Put a wall and then another wall and then maybe a closet inside of a bedroom between you and the outside. Anywhere down below ground is obviously the safest place to be.

And there are also safe rooms that you can build or have built for you with Kevlar anchored to the slab itself. There are a few thousand dollars, but see what happened in Joplin. Those safe rooms could have saved some lives. People in Oklahoma have those safe rooms. Also, another thing people in Oklahoma do, they take their garage and they blast the concrete out of the garage, on the bottom of the garage, and then, they make a hole in the garage and then literally build a cellar down below the garage door and then pulling a big steel door on top of them. It's the only place to be safe is underground with a big tornado like this.

BLITZER: Yes. Help the people who are in danger right now, have those opportunities. Chad, thank you.

Top republican in Congress is raising some eyebrows for comments he's made today about the cost from the Joplin tornado. Is the House Majority Leader Eric Cantor being insensitive.

And we'll tell you what's behind the lawsuits and claims that link between the 9/11 attacks and Iran?


BLITZER: Let's get right to our affiliate, KFOR. There's a tornado on the ground right outside of Oklahoma City. Let's listen into our affiliate, KFOR.


MIKE MORGAN, METEOROLOGIST: It's coming into Piedmont right now. Yes. It's on the west side of Piedmont right now. There's damaging winds. You saw the power pole literally snap in two where David is located. He's like a half mile away from it. The power pole just snapped in two. You saw it happened live. That's just around the tornado. Those winds are 100 miles an hour. So, it's right here on the west side of Piedmont crossing northwest highway right now.

Deer Creek admin just to the northwest of mercy -- southwest? OK. Let's go to the North Doppler and look at the velocities, and it's over Northwest Piedmont right here. It's centered right here. That's going to be at 15th, Edmond Road, 33rd and out there at Piedmont Road on the west side of Piedmont Road is where it is right now. Over-200 mile-per-hour wind shear. So, it could be an EF-4, potentially approaching an EF-5. It's a violent tornado. Let's go back to the storm trackers. Tornado warnings in effect now for Grady. There's a new tornado warning for Grady County.

BLITZER (voice-over): All right. You can see what's going on in Oklahoma right now. What a disaster unfolding. Chad Myers, you understood a lot more about that than I did. Explain.


MYERS: This is a tornado, Wolf, that moved in from almost Hinton Oklahoma, across i-40 and just north of ElReno, and as that across ElReno, it was about a half mile wide. We knew that it stayed that big, but we couldn't see it because it was wrapped in rain.


DAVID PAYNE, STORM CHASER: It's another killer tornado. Mike, we're across Highway 81 is where it intensified. and it almost got out. It intensified right on top of it. It's amazing. It's half a mile wide. Killer tornado just crossed Gregory Road. It's now going to cross northwest expressway in about a minute. It's crossing the northwest expressway right now. Right now. Mike, it's crossing northwest expressway.

It's a massive tornado. It's a half mile wide. No doubt about it. It looks just like it did an hour and a half ago. Deadly, deadly, deadly tornado, Mike. Coming down to the northwest side of the metro. Back to you.


MYERS: That's what knew. We talked about that Piedmont storm. We told people to take cover on that Piedmont storm in about 15 minutes ago. We knew it was headed that way. It is still a very large, what they called a maxi tornado, which means that they are probably multiple vortices wrapping around each other which mean more suction spots wind in excess of 150, maybe 200 miles per hour now in the town of Piedmont Oklahoma.

The next stop for the storm will actually be Northwest Oklahoma City and where I used to live up here in Edmond. So, you have from about ElReno across I-40 on up to Piedmont right there on the map and then into the northwestern sections of Oklahoma City proper and into Edmond, maybe even up towards Guthrie as this is a storm that has been on the ground, Wolf, for a very long time.

And David Payne, the storm chaser on the ground with the slightly excited voice, a long, long, long time friend of mine, and when he says that there's something on the ground, you can believe that, man. He's an outstanding meteorologist and Mike Morgan, I worked with him as well. The entire area there is in danger from Piedmont to the northwest across the northwest expressway into Edmond. You need to be taking cover now. A tornado that could be 150 miles per hour. BLITZER (on-camera): Chad, I want to play that video one more time right now, because you see these utility poles. They're just ripping up like tooth picks. Let's watch it and let's listen.


PAYNE: You can see the front of it. You see the light. So, everything that's dark in between there, Mike, is the tornado. It is on the ground. It is just on the west side of Piedmont. Like I said, I can see the piedmont police and emergency management people getting people out of Piedmont. You know, the Highway Piedmont Road and they got shut down. So, hopefully they will get everybody --

MORGAN: Look at the motion in that. Oh, my gosh.

PAYNE: Hopefully, they will get out of there and safe.

MORGAN: The motion is tremendous. David Payne, are you still with us? Violent tornado coming into Piedmont. David, are you there?

PAYNE: Yes, Mike. Can you hear me?

MORGAN: Go. Yes. Go.

PAYNE: It's a half mile wide. It's another killer tornado. Mike, we're across Highway 81 is where it intensified, and it almost got out. It intensified right on top of it. It's amazing. It's a half mile wide. Killer tornado just crossed Gregory Road. It's now going to cross northwest expressway in about a minute. It's crossing the northwest expressway right now. Right now. Mike, it's crossing northwest expressway.

It's a maxi tornado. It's a half mile wide. no doubt about it. It looks just like it did an hour and a half ago, deadly, deadly, deadly tornado, Mike, comiing down to the northwest side of the metro. Back to you.


BLITZER: You know, Chad, it's amazing because this -- these pictures happened literally just moments ago, and it's so, so dramatic and so scary. You've seen this kind of stuff before but no matter how many times you see it, you get so scared.

MYERS: Well, you understand there are people on the ground that are unable to get out of the way. David Payne, a professional storm chaser for a long time, there are other storm chasers on the storm, but there are people in this cell right now that cannot get away. Even though they may be in their safe room, we know people that we're in the safe room in Joplin and with a 198-mile-per-hour storm in Joplin, Missouri, on Sunday, they were unable to be safe.

They were killed even in a safe place. And this is the same type of storm with the same of rotation, the same type of speed now moving into a populated area. Storms in Western Oklahoma happen all the time. There are Ef-2s and 3s and 4s all the time mowing down wheat fields, and all of a sudden, it doesn't even make the news at all, maybe even the local news, for that matter, but this now, this a big tornado hitting another major populated area.

People ask me all the time, Wolf, why don't big tornadoes ever hit cities? And it's just -- if you look down from an airplane and you look down, the cities are small compared to the farms that are just so large. There's just not as much city as there is farm, and so it's just a law of averages that typically that a storm will hit a farmland, a range land, but the past -- this now three times from Tuscaloosa and Birmingham to Joplin, Missouri, and now into Piedmont, Oklahoma, they ill be picking up the pieces.

We hope these people are safe. This is a very large and deadly tornado on the ground now heading into Northwest Oklahoma City.

BLITZER: Is it moving back towards Joplin too, this wave of tornadoes?

MYERS: Well, yes, in effect, but that would be four hours away, Wolf. Way beyond what we can say that this storm would hold together, but there are lines and there will be more storms today that fire in a very densely humid air mass. There's cold air aloft. There's warm air. The sun was out all day. And now, the storms are rotating, super cell thunderstorms that could eventually -- I mean, Oklahoma to Joplin is a long drive, but they will stay together.

The problem is they may get to Joplin after dark, and that's even more dangerous. The people in Joplin, what they have to understand is that even a 40-mile-per-hour wind gust will move the debris that's already on the ground. Those are not viable houses anymore. That's just debris that's about to get picked up. Sheets of plywood about to be thrown around, not even in a tornado, just in any old thunderstorm.

They need to be out of there. Those rescue workers will be out of there. We'll have our crews out of there as well before it gets to Joplin. And I would say at least three to four hours lead time there.

BLITZER: All right. Chad, thanks very much. Don't go too far away. We're monitoring the breaking news. A new wave of tornadoes in Oklahoma right now. Much more on this part of the story coming up.


BLITZER: Let's bring in contributor, the former Bush speechwriter, David Frum. He's the editor of Pictures are amazing, heartbreaking. What's going on? Eric Cantor, the majority leader in the House, says he's going to try to find the money to help the people of Missouri, but he wants to cut federal spending elsewhere to pay for it. Some are saying that's heartless in a crisis like this. What say you?

DAVID FRUM, CNN.COM CONTRIBUTOR: Well, he shouldn't have said it on the record, but I know what he's worried about. It is a well-known practice in American politics to use disaster reconstruction as a way to help the party of the president. We've seen this often after major disasters. Missouri is a battleground states. There are lots of opportunities in the days after this tragedy for the party in power to pour money in, and Cantor is trying to say there's going to be a break on how much you can spend.

BLITZER: There are some libertarians out there say the federal government should just stay out of it all together like Congressman Ron Paul, for example.

FRUM: I don't think it's about libertarian politics. I think this is about a concern about presidential pork barreling, but today is not the day to give that answer. Today is the day to say whatever needs to be done will be done.

BLITZER: Quickly, what was your assessment of Prime Minister Netanyahu's address before a joint meeting of Congress?

FRUM: I don't understand why President Obama allowed this test of strength to be set up in the way it was. That he could have had a very productive meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu with disagreements backstage. Instead, he, I think, stumbled in his Thursday speech, and then with his reemphasis on Sunday into a confrontation.

And Netanyahu just delivered a message -- actually, Congress delivered a message through Netanyahu to the world that the prime minister of Israel has a lot of friends in the U.S. Congress.

BLITZER: But if you speak to White House officials -- and you once were a White House official -- they say the president is trying to protect Israel from a U.N. general assembly resolution in September that would call for a Palestinian state.

FRUM: Yes, but this resolution is a mind game on the American public. Look, if you ever bought a car, when the salesman says, you have to close this deal now. It won't be there tomorrow. You know, it's not a good deal. This attempt to create a sense of urgency around the September event. How many anti-Israel resolutions has the general assembly passed? It's not the Security Council. This will be one more. It is no reason to do anything hasty and unconsidered.

BLITZER: I'm going to be interviewing the prime minister later tonight. Our interview will air tomorrow here in the SITUATION ROOM. David, thanks very much.

FRUM: Thank you.

BLITZER: Let's go back to Jack. He's got the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The question this hour is what message is sent to the people of Joplin Missouri by the president's trip to Europe? We got a lot, a lot of mail.

Vinny in Connecticut, "It took Obama almost two months to go the Gulf Coast and view the damage from the BP oil spill. Now, he's having a great time in Europe visiting his cousins and the queen, but promises he'll be visit the sites of the tornadoes on Sunday. He's just so busy. He'll probably need another vacation soon fairly soon."

Donna in Wisconsin, "Get a life, Jack. I'm tired of you continually feeding the fires of negative thoughts on the president. His trip was already scheduled when the tornado hit. Changing a president's itinerary is extremely difficult. Not like you deciding to take a day off because the weather's nice. So, be real and stop the bashing."

Ed in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, "I voted for Obama. I like him a great deal. As proud of him as I was when he announced the Bin Laden justice, I'm embarrassed of him being in Europe right now, especially with Prime Minister Netanyahu uttering the first words to APEC delegates when referring to Joplin, quote, "America, we are with you, unquote. Think about that."

Larry in Colorado, "The sad part of all this, no Republican can beat him, and no one in his own administration would say, Mr. President, you really need to come home. Whether it was Bush reading a book during 9/11 or Katrina or Joplin, nothing changes."

Jeff in Missouri, "I author a blog for the Joplin Globe called Caldwell's Corner and pen occasional editorials and columns. When I heard this morning dear leader was going to bless us with his presence on Sunday, I couldn't believe it. I just watched last night the disconnect between Israeli's prime minister talking off script, giving support to America and Joplin, in particular, and the news of Obama searching for his Irish roots and the perfect pint."

"My column today is quite negative, and I will most surely catch some flack for it. Just wanted to thank you for lending your national profile to a thought that many of us here in Joplin have been feeling all day."

And Joe finally in New York, "Wow, Jack what a loaded question. Not getting enough negative Obama responses these days? He was already on his way over there when the tornado hit. It's not like he headed off to Europe after the tornado struck. I know he's a pretty good president, but it's not like he can wave a magic wand and make everything better just by being there. Weather permitting, he'll be there Sunday. Keep your grumpily shirt on, Jack."

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

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.