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THE SITUATION ROOM
Joplin Devastated, Homes, Schools, Churches Destroyed, Survivors Find A Way To Carry On; Survivor: "It's Life...We Go On"; "Oh, God, God, Help"; Tornado Terror in a Yogurt Shop; Lawsuit: Iran was Tied to 9/11 Attacks; Pastor's Prayers Answered; Fifteen People Crammed in a Dark Freezer
Aired May 28, 2011 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Lives and homes twisted and destroyed as the single deadliest tornado on record lays waste to Joplin, Missouri. And nearly a week after the disaster, the search grows more agonizing and frustrating.
Plus, the presidential candidate faces questions about his big account at Tiffany's. Now Newt Gingrich is trying to defuse the controversy.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It's hard to put into words the sheer force of the monster tornados that have hammered the Midwest this week. Look at this amazing twister caught on tape in Chickasha, Oklahoma.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's crossing the road right where we were [ bleep ] standing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Slow down. Get out your window. Get out your window.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am. It took that shed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watch behind you. You're good.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't push.
Oh, my God! Back up. Oh, no. Stop. Oh, no, what did it destroy? Running back. Oh, it's a trailer house. Slow down, Bernie. No, slow down, you're going to hit some debris.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And near Shawnee, Oklahoma, more dramatic video of a tornado literally ripping this giant semi to shreds. The 29-year-old driver believes he was either sucked from the window or fell out as it was happening. He was treated for a fractured shoulder bone and some scrapes. Other than that, he's fine.
In Joplin, Missouri, the site of the killer tornado that's captured the world's attention, one pastor survived, says he doesn't know which was louder, the wind outside his church or the praying inside. Our Lisa Sylvester has dramatic pictures and stories from the disaster.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh. There it is. There it is.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The monster tornado whipped up winds of 190 to the 198 miles per hour. You can't see much here, but listen as the tornado howls through. Captured with a cell phone camera.
(ROARING SOUND, SCREAMING)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Heavenly Father, thank you, Jesus.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is everybody OK?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is everybody OK?
SYLVESTER: Isaac Duncan was among those huddled with about 20 others in an industrial refrigerator.
ISAAC DUNCAN, TORNADO SURVIVOR: Everyone was kind of just deciding what to do. And all of a sudden the glass in the front of the building just got sucked out. Basically the only thing left standing was the cooler that we were in. Everything, everything around it was gone.
SYLVESTER: Houses and businesses left behind like broken twigs. Joplin St. Joseph's Hospital lies in tatters.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Total floors are that are entirely, just absolutely devastated. The windows have blown out. There's debris hanging outside of the windows.
SYLVESTER: Everything out of place, including this wheelchair.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's indescribable. I don't know what to say other than that. I've never seen anything like it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm 22 years old. I have a wife and two kids, 14 months old. We lost everything in the tornado. We're just trying to salvage what we can.
SYLVESTER: The tornado cut a path four miles long and left an unbelievable trail mowing down anything in its way, but out of this, amazing stories from survivors. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was trapped in the bathroom because all the dining room furniture came in. And because I thought I was buried. It was a very, very long tornado.
DOUG HUNT, JOPLIN RESIDENT: We've got a lot of people that have died. And this city is a resilient city and it was very humbling all through the night. Nobody could sleep, but we could hear emergency vehicles driving in from areas hundreds of miles away. So, it's a sad time for our city, but at the same time, you know, we're thankful for the people who are coming together and helping.
BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester reporting for us. Hundreds of their neighbors and loved ones are dead, injured or missing. Much of their city is in ruins. Homes, schools, businesses destroyed. Joplin's residents face an overwhelming challenge as they gradually move from rescue to recovery and now to trying to rebuild. Brian Todd reached Joplin within hours after the twister stuck.
It's almost a week, Brian. This disaster, though, is simply breathtaking.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, Wolf.
We were among the first teams of journalists on the ground in Joplin shortly after the tornado struck. We came across entire neighborhoods wiped out. Houses, buildings, completely flattened for as far as the eye could see. And local residents who were wandering around practically in a daze.
TODD (voice over): Shell-shocked residents rattle through what was once a vibrant neighborhood. In seconds the tornado reduced nearly a third of the City of Joplin to flattened board, brick and concrete.
Reverend C.J. Campbell was in his house huddled in a hallway with his sister as the tornado ripped through.
REV. C.J. CAMPBELL, TORNADO SURVIVOR: An entire 1800-foot square house completely collapsed around us within 60 seconds.
TODD: They made it out. But the house is a total loss. At St. John's Regional Medical Center, the twister's wrath was almost surreal.
(On camera): Look at this helipad. This part is empty, but if you just move to your left over here, you're going to see the wreckage of a helicopter that was just tossed on its side and twisted around. Look at the wreckage here. The front of it is just taken off. And there's the cockpit. Look at the rotors, completely gone.
(voice over): Sergio Gomez was working admissions at the hospital when the tornado hit.
TODD (on camera): Kind of an exposed part of the hospital. How did you make it out?
SERGIO GOMEZ, TORNADO SURVIVOR: Honestly, I was really worrying about getting out. It was mostly getting all the patients safe, in a safer room.
TODD: How do you feel about losing this car? You were attached to it.
GOMEZ: I feel really bad. I worked really hard for it. To be honest, it's probably the newest care that I've ever had, and the coolest car I ever had. I worked really hard for it. It's a shame really and I have liability. So there's no way of replacing it.
TODD: Gomez is also worried about having a job now, an indication that the long painful road back for this town will be physical, emotional and economically very stressful.
TODD: And the search continues for those missing in the tornado. Officials here working with local families to try to streamline that process after several days of confusion and some controversy on that front, as well, Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, Brian, a lot of our viewers will remember your excellent coverage from Japan, the earthquake, the tsunami, what you saw there, compare and contrast that with what you're seeing now in Missouri.
TODD: Well, there are a lot of eerie similarities, Wolf. What you saw in Japan, what you're seeing here in Joplin are whole neighborhoods wiped away by the force of nature, by the force of this tornado in Joplin. Same as in Japan. As far as the eye could see, the landscape was just completely barren; a lot of wreckage and people having a tough time just trying to walk maybe 15 feet.
Also, the force of the tornado, similar to the force of the tsunami, in that it carried people away. You're wondering whether there's going to be an accurate count of those people. But in the actual area, that's where the real difference lies. With the tornado the area is, of course, much smaller that got affected and in the tsunami in Japan, it affected several cities.
BLITZER: This was an F-5, the highest category of these tornadoes, 200 miles an hour. Thanks very much, Brian Todd on the scene for us as he always is.
It might seem impossible to pick up and move on after losing everything in Joplin. But one woman is doing just that. Our own Anderson Cooper has her very surprising story. Plus, it's already been the deadliest year for tornadoes since 1953. What's behind this unusual string of monstrous storms? We're getting answers.
And could hundreds of thousands of dollars in Tiffany's jewels wind up costing Newt Gingrich his bid for the White House? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Turning now to politics and Newt Gingrich who says he wants to talk about jobs, energy, other issues. But the Republican presidential candidate can't seem to escape questions about his charge account at the luxury store Tiffany's. Let's bring in CNN's Lisa Sylvester.
She's working the story for us-Lisa.
SYLVESTER: Wolf, you know, sometimes diamonds are not a girl's best friend, especially if your husband is running for president. The family charge account at Tiffany's is now becoming an issue for Newt Gingrich. Callista Gingrich, the wife of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, is known for her great taste in jewelry. No wonder. The couple had a revolving credit line of $250,000 to $500,000 at Tiffany's. A bit over the top for a guy who is running for president, says political reporter Jake Sherman, who broke the story.
JAKE SHERMAN, POLITICO: But a quarter million dollars in jewelry, that's what a lot of people pay for their house, $300,000, $400,000. So people don't exactly understand how someone could go into debt. I mean we're talking about debt of a quarter million to a half a million dollars on jewelry.
SYLVESTER: This is a stunning string of diamonds worn by Callista Gingrich, a similar version on the Tiffany's website costs $45,000. These cluster diamond earrings she's wearing here, a similar pair is $5,200 the matching necklace, $9,500. Just two strands of pearls cost $975 on the Tiffany's website. Callista has several layered around her neck.
(On camera): Imagine having a credit card with a $500,000 limit to shop exclusively at one store, Tiffany & Company. Although the former House speaker describes himself as actually kind of frugal.
NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I owe no debt. None, OK. My house is paid for. Our cars are paid for. We run four small businesses in a way that I would think people would like.
SYLVESTER: Gingrich says he has done well with several successful businesses since he's been in the private sector. Tiffany & Company confirmed that Gingrich doesn't owe the store any money at this time. And in a statement said, quote, "All customer information is confidentially held at Tiffany & Company. The with the permission of Speaker Gingrich we can confirm his Tiffany Time Account has a zero balance and that all payments were made in a timely manner.
The Tiffany's flap isn't going away, add it to the rough start in his presidential bid. Gingrich managed to tick off members of his own party by attacking the House GOP budget plan authored by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. And in New Hampshire, the Tiffany story continued to dog him.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you feel like working families will -- GINGRICH: No, I feel that you are far more fascinated with that than most Americans. Normal Americans actually ask about jobs, they ask about energy, they ask about all sorts of things that affect their lives.
SYLVESTER: Now, all of this came to light because Callista Gingrich worked as a clerk for the House Agriculture Committee up until 2007 and was required to file disclosure forms, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Lisa.
Lisa Sylvester is in New York for us. Thanks very much.
Let's talk a little bit more about this with our Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger. This is a big problem for Newt Gingrich because it's symbolic, but it is still significant.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it's symbolic of somebody living within their means, when you are a real budget cutter. People don't like to see that you have a huge outstanding bill. They want to know that you can be able to take care of your family finances. Now, Newt Gingrich says the bill is now paid off.
BLITZER: He didn't have to pay the interest on any of that.
BORER: He didn't have to pay any interest on it. So I think it's just one more thing for Newt Gingrich. It also reminds people of the fact that this is a new-ish wife and that he's had some others. And so it raises the whole family issues again, which is something I don't think the speaker wanted to be dealing with.
BLITZER: Because a lot of American voters don't like, whether it's Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives, are hypocrites, if you will.
BORGER: Right not living within your means. I think this is a real problem.
BLITZER: Although he has been making a lot of money lately, so he was living within his means.
BORGER: Yeah, but -well, but the question is then why have the charge account there? If you are living with in your means and you want to buy your wife a beautiful necklace, buy your wife a beautiful necklace. But why have a no interest account with Tiffany's?
BLITZER: In other words, if you can afford $300,000 for the necklace, you pay cash and move on.
BORGER: Right, right, I have no problem with this.
BLITZER: Instead of putting it on a revolving account or something like that.
BLITZER: Let's talk about another potential. He's in, but there's a potential candidate all of a sudden, we're getting a lot of buzz about Sarah Palin.
BORGER: Yeah, we are. I mean, you know, there are reports and we know that Sarah Palin's has bought a house in Arizona. She -- our own Peter Hamby just reported she's embarking on a nationwide tour. She'll be in Washington, D.C. tomorrow with a biker rally. And she's -- so we know that Sarah Palin is now going to take back to the campaign trail, if you will, Rolling Thunder here on Sunday is an annual rally, of bikers to support the troops and POWs.
So the question is-and she's been sounding also, Wolf, like she wants to get in. You know, she says she has the fire in the belly. She says there's nobody representing the Tea Party candidates, and there is some truth to that at this point. So we'll see what she decides to do.
BLITZER: I was always skeptical because she's making a ton of money. Millions and millions of dollars.
BORGER: Yes, right.
BLITZER: Has been making a lot of money over the past couple years since she gave up her job as governor of Alaska. I assume she wanted to continue doing that without necessarily wanting to throw her hat in the ring.
BORGER: Right, I always assumed she wanted to be a kingmaker. But if you look at the candidates who are in, officially, you can say where is the really magnetic Tea Party candidate in this race? That's not Mitt Romney. It's not Tim Pawlenty. It's not Jon Huntsman. We just heard that Rick Santorum is getting in the race, but we don't know about Michele Bachmann, for example. And this may be Sarah Palin's way of getting somebody to get in that race. Or it may be her way of saying you know what-as she, the mainstream media here, this may be her way of saying guys, you were saying I wasn't running but I am going to surprise you. What we do know is she better make a decision quickly.
BLITZER: Because some staff members, and campaign fund-raising events, you've got to start doing that if you are serious.
BORGER: You've got to raise enough money.
BLITZER: Although she does have, what 100 percent name recognition already. Rick Santorum or Jon huntsman, everybody knows who Sarah Palin is.
BORGER: There's going to be a two-hour movie that is going to be released in Iowa, which is kind of a biopic about her life, a very positive one we're told. This could be her own way of rolling out a campaign.
BLITZER: If anyone can delay and still get in, it's Sarah Palin. BORGER: She freezes the race. By the way, if she gets in, Mitt Romney should be happy because it freezes the race. And it makes it a two-person race between Romney and Palin.
BLITZER: All right. We'll watch. Gloria, thank you.
It's the deadliest tornado season in more than half a century. Here's a question, why? Our severe weather expert Chad Meyers is standing by. Plus, the horror of the disaster as it happened. We'll hear one woman's desperate voice mail.
BLITZER: So what's behind this historic string of killer tornado we're seeing right now? CNN Meteorologist Chad Meyers is joining us from the Severe Weather Center in Atlanta.
Chad, what's going on right now?
CHAD MEYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, I think they'll be master's theses written about this for years and years and years to come.
There are a few things we know are different about this spring than a typical spring. First of all, the number of EF-5 tornados. There have been four tornadoes over 200 miles per hour. Now, there was one above 200 miles per hour in 2008. There was one in 2007. Before that, 1999, we've already had four this year. And we're only the end of May.
So what is going on? Over the winter, we had La Nina. La Nina is something in the Pacific Ocean. Where there's cold water in the Pacific near North and South America. That is-and caused a bunch of snow in the Rockies and the Sierra. We're talking about 72 feet of snow at Alpine Meadows in the Sierra. That cold air and snow is still there.
Then to the south in the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf of Mexico is two degrees warmer than normal. So it's colder on one side of the jet, warmer on the other. That makes a stronger jet stream. Stronger winds in the jet makes more sheer, more sheer will make more wind, will make bigger tornadoes. That's where I think the theory comes in. There will be other pieces and parts put in there, of course, but that's the basis for what we believe has happened so far this year with more killer tornadoes than ever before.
BLITZER: Is there a connection to all these killer tornadoes we're seeing, Chad, and the flooding, for example, that has been disastrous as well? Is there some correlation that I'm missing?
MEYERS: No, it's an interesting theory. I think that will be put in the mix, as well. Very few tornadoes in Texas and Oklahoma until this week, in Oklahoma, but very few in Texas. There's been a drought there. All the fires, we talk about the fires in Texas have been there all spring long. Not as many storms not as much humidity or rain on the ground, doesn't make much humidity in the air. So the storms haven't been there. Where has the rain been? Over Mississippi, over Kansas, over Memphis; that humidity on the ground evaporates, so the air becomes more humid. Where have the big storms been? East of there; from Joplin, Missouri over into Alabama, and even those tornadoes up into Raleigh, North Carolina. I think there's a correlation there, as well.
BLITZER: Let's talk about the rest of the next few weeks, for example. We know there's a hurricane season. There's a tornado season. What can we anticipate in the coming weeks?
MEYERS: I don't think tornado season is over, by any stretch of the imagination. The jet stream is still much farther south than it's supposed to be right now. It should be over Nebraska. All those tornados over Oklahoma and into Missouri and Arkansas the past couple weeks, they already be should be farther to the north.
Then when we get in July and August, that jet stream is all the way into Canada. There have been tornadoes in Edmonton and Calgary, big tornadoes up into Canada but that's always July, August, September, when the jet gets that far north. When the jet comes back down in October and November, then the severe weather season gets back down into the plains again.
The last time we've had so many tornadoes-and not as many people died- but we had so many tornadoes was 2004. I spent 12 long storms on beaches, waiting for huge hurricanes in 2004. Let's hope that correlation between a lot of tornadoes and a lot of hurricanes doesn't go through this year. But I think that might correlate just the way it's gone in the past.
BLITZER: The that sounds ominous. Let's hope it doesn't. Thanks very much, Chad. Excellent work this week as always. Appreciate it.
We're going to have much more on the tornado disaster, including the search for the missing and amazing stories of survival.
Plus, details of a new lawsuit alleging Iran had a role in 9/11.
BLITZER: For mile after mile, a huge swathe of destruction cuts through Joplin, Missouri. Somehow though, residents must find the strength to start all over again. From the rubble, CNN's Anderson Cooper has a story of hope, faith and the determination to keep on going.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): How do you begin to rebuild? How do you decide where to start? Sally Smith is figuring it out.
SALLY SMITH, TORNADO SURVIVOR: I'm finding stuff over here. But then I'm also finding stuff over, so I don't even know where to start looking.
COOPER: We first met Sally in what remains of the living room of her mother's home.
(on camera): Is it all right if we stand up there? This was sort of a fireplace.
SMITH: And the piano. Of course, we had windows. The couch is here. I don't know where the couch is.
COOPER (voice-over): Sally's mother Marge is 80 and survived the storm in her sister's house nearby. She doesn't yet know her home is gone. Sally and her family are hoping to find personal belongings to cushion the blow.
SMITH: The first thing we did was look for jewelry. You know, things that my grandmother had given her.
COOPER (on camera): Things that had sentimental value.
SMITH: Then I looked for clothes. Now we're just going through pots, pans, plates, functional things that she can use to rebuild her life.
COOPER: That's how you begin rebuilding.
COOPER: Just little pieces here and there.
SMITH: Yes. So everywhere you look --
COOPER (voice-over): Some of her mother's doll collection survived the tornado. Sally still can't believe what she's seeing.
SMITH: Overwhelmed. I tell my husband I'm overwhelmed. I just don't know what I'm going to do, but it will work out. It will, but I've never -- I've never been through a thing like this in my life ever.
COOPER (on camera): It's the kind of thing you see on the news.
SMITH: And we keep seeing pictures and I keep telling people that doesn't do it justice.
COOPER (voice-over): Most of the upstairs of the house is gone.
(on camera): This is your bedroom when you were a kid.
SMITH: This is my bedroom when I was growing up, right here. I mean, you could see all the way to Home Depot so it was just --
COOPER: It's incredible when you think of it from the Home Depot, it's literally as far as the eye can see all the way around.
SMITH: It's just gone. Wal-Mart. I mean, you can see Wal-Mart. It's just right there. It's gone.
COOPER (voice-over): Sally's home survived the storm, but her employer was badly hit. She's not sure if she still has a job.
(on camera): You were wearing a t-shirt that says life is good.
SMITH: Life is good. God does not give us anything we cannot handle and I know his hand - too many things. We will be fine. Saying goodbye to things is hard, you know, but it's our life. We go on.
COOPER: You're about the most optimistic person I've met in a long time.
SMITH: I don't know. I just, like I said, life goes on. You cannot fall apart over things like this.
COOPER (voice-over): You can't fall apart and so she doesn't. That's how you rebuild, she tells me. That's how you restart. You stay strong. You pick up the pieces and you start one by one.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson Cooper reporting for us. In Joplin, Missouri, many of those who survived are only now beginning to come to terms with what happened. CNN's Casey Wian is in Joplin with one family's dramatic story of survival.
CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A beautiful house in a Joplin, Missouri, suburb, reduced to a memory. It belonged to Jim and Stacy Richards who are just now telling a harrowing tale of survival. Jim was at work when the tornado struck.
JIM RICHARDS, TORNADO SURVIVOR: I started to come home. I got a text from my wife. The first couple were gibberish and finally it came through saying help, roof under.
WIAN: Then came a desperate voice mail from Stacy. Jim hasn't been able himself to listen to all of it until now.
STACY RICHARDS, TORNADO SURVIVOR: There was this kind of pressure in my ears and the next thing I know is the dirt and grit and stuff was hitting me in the face. I realized that the roof was coming off.
WIAN (on camera): And she was in between those two kennels.
RICHARDS: These two kennels yes, trying to have one hand on top of each, one on each.
STACY: I could feel the dog's crate lifting up. I got on the floor holding the dog's crates and I had one other dog under my arm and things started to land on me. And I actually did get trapped. I remember thinking the next thing that lands on me. I'm going to probably die.
WIAN (voice-over): Stacy was pinned for about 20 minutes unable to contact her husband or son.
STACY: My son texted me and said are you OK and it was the most awful thing because I couldn't tell him no, I'm not. And that was awful. Laying there screaming and screaming and screaming and it was horrible.
WIAN: Stacy and her three dogs survived, rescued by a neighbor.
RICHARDS: I have no idea how she walked out of this.
WIAN: Battered and bruised, she still has a sense of humor.
STACY: I feel like Dorothy in Kansas. I felt like Stacy in Joplin with a house that was ripping off from the foundations.
WIAN: They took refuge in a local hotel and during another round of warnings Tuesday night. The next morning, Jim met with his insurance company to assess the damage.
STEVE PERIN, AMERICAN FAMILY INSURANCE: We've got three bedroom, two bath. We're going to get them paid either today or tomorrow.
WIAN (on camera): The Richards have not decided whether they're going to use their insurance proceeds to rebuild here or relocate, but they say the next house they live in will have a basement for better protection from tornados. Casey Wian, CNN, Joplin, Missouri.
BLITZER: The Joplin tornado damaged or destroyed thousands of buildings and emerging from these ruins, there are, of course, these stories of terror, heart break, survival. Take the yogurt shop where employees and customers saved themselves at the very last minute. Here's CNN's Jeanne Meserve.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just nine days after opening Joplin's New Cherry Berry yogurt shop was reduced to this. Surveillance tape shows a normal Sunday. When warning sirens went off, they were ignored.
JOLYNN DOTSON, OWNER, CHERRY BERRY: No one really took it serious and we didn't think it was an actual tornado. We just thought heavy winds.
MESERVE: But when employees and customers looked outside and saw the tornado bearing down, they were hustled to the back of the store.
DOTSON: That's when it was just like you, you, you in the office. You, you in the bathrooms.
MESERVE: The surveillance tape shows the windows shattering, the furniture flying. Then camera after camera goes black. When the group emerged after the tornado, they found the store and the city all around it chewed up and spit out. They were all safe, they thought.
But when the owners viewed the surveillance tape for the first time Monday, they saw a hand reaching to pull a table into place and realized a family had tried to protect itself in the shop. The police were called to do a second search of the rubble. They found nothing. Eyewitnesses then recalled they had seen the family after the tornado. Safe.
DOTSON: I don't know who they are. I would love to hug their necks and praise God they made it too.
MESERVE: Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Joplin, Missouri.
BLITZER: We're going to have much more on the killer tornado in Joplin. Just ahead, riding out the storm inside a pancake house and some of the unique places people sought cover.
Plus, new claims right now that Iran, yes, Iran, has ties to the 9/11 attacks on the United States. We're digging deeper.
BLITZER: A stunning new federal lawsuit claims that Iran helped plan and facilitate the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Our own Mary Snow is in New York. She's been looking into the story for us. What have you learned, Mary?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, lawyers who filed this lawsuit here in New York are asking a judge to hold Iran liable for the September 11th attacks and they alleged Iran had prior knowledge of the attacks.
But exactly how they make that link is unknown since they rely heavily on testimony from defectors, and that testimony is currently sealed.
SNOW (voice-over): Inside the 9/11 Commission Report, there are two pages that put Attorney Thomas Mellon Jr. on a seven-year path, a path that resulted in a federal lawsuit alleging Iran is linked to the September 11th attacks.
THOMAS MELLON JR., ATTORNEY: On 240, 241.
SNOW: Under the title "Assistance from Hezbollah and Iran to al Qaeda," the report concludes we believe this topic requires further investigation by the U.S. government. And that's what prompted Melon to dig further.
MELLON: We took one interview to the next, one tip, one lead, one bit of evidence to the next step. It's now taken us since July of '04 to firmly establish the truth indeed it was Iran who assisted al Qaeda.
SNOW: The 9/11 Commission Report found several of the 9/11 hijackers traveled through Iran into or out of Afghanistan without ever getting their passports stamped.
But the commission found no evidence that Iran or Hezbollah, the State Department sanctioned terror group that is supported by Iran, were ever aware of the planning for the attacks.
In the lawsuit filed in New York, Mellon and other attorneys alleged Iran and Hezbollah were involved in the planning.
(on camera): What is your strongest evidence?
MELLON: Our strongest evidence is the fact that the people who wrote the two pages on the 9/11 Commission Report calling for further investigation have now given us very long and detailed affidavits.
SNOW (voice-over): Mellon says three defectors from Iran also provided evidence in 25 hours of sworn videotaped testimony, but that system is currently sealed to protect their identities.
One person who's interested in monitoring the case is Thomas Kean, the former co-chairman of the 9/11 Commission. He says he's unaware of anyone in the U.S. government following up on the commission's recommendation to investigate Iran further.
THOMAS KEAN, FORMER 9/11 COMMISSION CO-CHAIRMAN: There were a couple of examples of that. This wasn't the only example, a couple of examples where we pointed to leads that we didn't have the staff or the time to investigate.
And nobody followed through, yes. That's annoying. It's serious. People should have followed through.
SNOW: At this point it, Ellen Saracini says al she wants is an answer. Her husband, Victor, was a pilot for United Flight 175 that was hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center. She and other families named in the suit are seeking damages, but she says she knows no damages will be paid.
ELLEN SARACINI, 9/11 WIDOW: It will fulfil a lot of feelings of mine that need to have the perpetrators of such evil found accountable, but it still doesn't brink my girls' daddy back home at the end of the night.
SNOW: Now, our calls to the Iranian Mission to the United Nations were not returned and Iran has not responded to the lawsuit. But a state-run media quotes a senior Iranian lawmaker refuted the allegations saying Washington is playing a blame game in the Middle East. Wolf --
BLITZER: What do we know about the defectors you just reported on?
SNOW: Well, they are said to be members of Iran's Ministry of Information and Security, former members. And what the attorney that we spoke with said is that he expects that at least one will come public within the month.
He said they were in a position to have access to sensitive information and claims they know information firsthand.
BLITZER: All right, Mary, keep on top of the story for us and our viewers. Thanks very much.
BLITZER: A catholic priest prayed as he took shelter from the tornado. He survived, but his church was destroyed. Now he counts on faith to help his parishioners through their continuing ordeal.
As the tornado unleashed its full fury, staffers and customers took shelter in the freezer of a restaurant. You're going to hear their compelling stories.
BLITZER: St. Mary Parish is just one of the many buildings flattened by the Joplin tornado, but its pastor managed to survive. CNN meteorologist Jacqui Jeras is in Joplin for us with more. This is an emotional story, obviously, Jacqui.
JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, it really is. You know, it's an amazing story of survival that's actually providing a lot of hope for people in this devastated community who so desperately needed to hear some good news out of this, and that's that 70-year-old pastor was able to get out of there without a scratch.
JERAS: This was the building you were in?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
JERAS (voice-over): There's almost nothing left, but rubble of Father Justin Monaghan's rectory behind St. Mary's Catholic Church where he has served his community for the past 15 years. He survived the tornado by seeking haven in what he had always heard was the safest place, the bathroom.
REV. JUSTIN MONAGHAN, ST. MARY'S CATHOLIC CHURCH: I got in the bathtub face down, tried to cover my head and I heard this noise. And I thought, what is happening?
I lay there. I just prayed and said thy will be done. And I decide to wait till the end of the noise and then I opened that door and everything was blocking it. It was all covered there.
JERAS: He wait there had, 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 there was water dripping and making noise. I said, where are you? And I pulled some kind of a board like you see the boards there and I the put it in the air.
JERAS: Amazingly he was uninjured and says God got him through the storm.
(on camera): 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, I love you.
JERAS (voice-over): The parishioners who have shown up to help are also leaning heavily on their faith.
BOB ESSNER, PARISHIONER OF 29 YEARS: Sometimes you think it happens to bring people closer to together and helps you put life in perspective.
JERAS: While there is nearly nothing left of the church, the metal cross stands tall over miles of devastation.
CAROLYN MARSHALL, PARISHIONER OF 5 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 happened as a result.
JERAS: And some of those good things are still continuing here in Joplin. The church has become a gathering place for parishioners where they can support each other.
They've also been helping unasked, coming to the church and trying to save anything they can out of that rubble. One young boy was able to save the pastor's bible and another person saved his golf clubs.
The father has a brother who's also a priest and they like to golf every week so he says he's going to try to continue that tradition. Wolf --
BLITZER: I guess Sunday services this weekend will be extraordinarily unusual, shall we say.
JERAS: Yes. They're not going to do it at the church. There are two other catholic churches in town and Father says that he will give mass, though, at St. Peter's just a couple miles away.
BLITZER: What a story. Good for them. Jacqui, thank you.
When the Joplin tornado came barrelling through, people sought cover anywhere they could find it, including a refrigerator and a freezer inside a pancake house. Once again, CNN's Casey Wian has that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The people are going to start to just clean some of the debris around. WIAN (voice-over): Danny Khatib is the manager of this demolished IHOP restaurant in Joplin, Missouri. He was on duty when the tornado struck Sunday.
DANNY KHATIB, IHOP DISTRICT MANAGER: It started getting dark, was hailing, rain, of course, a lot of rain, and the siren went off. We're used to this kind of stuff, usually, I mean, kind of. So I wasn't very scared in the beginning, but after that, it just kept getting worse and worse.
WIAN: Inside, 30 customers and six 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 was 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 (on camera): What were you hearing?
KHATIB: Just a lot of noises, just like a train passing through and a lot of noises. People gathered, and there were too many so they crowded up here. They managed to get inside the walk-in and inside the freezer so as you see.
WIAN (voice-over): Fifteen in the refrigerator, 15 in the freezer and the rest huddled outside.
(on camera): Imagine being one of the 15 people who were crammed inside this walk-in refrigerator waiting out the tornado. Had to be even scarier because there was no light and they were in here for about five minutes, hoping and praying.
(voice-over): 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: Thank God nobody got hurt and everybody was fine.
WIAN: His house was also destroyed, yet two days after the tornado the Syrian immigrant has nothing, but kind words for his adopted town.
KHATIB: We come all together and make through it. So I'm very proud of Joplin people and our community here.
WIAN: As for the future of the restaurant?
(on camera): Is it going to be rebuilt?
KHATIB: Definitely is going to come back better than before.
BLITZER: Casey Wian reporting for us. Thank you. President Obama's state visit to Britain, not everything went as planned.
BLITZER: Here's a look at our "Hotshots." In London, onlookers try to catch a glimpse of President Obama outside the palace of Westminster. In New York airplanes buzz past the statue of liberty to mark the beginning of Fleet Week.
In Belarus, shoppers inspect second hand shoes at a street market and in France, look at this, cows graze at the edge of a stream. "Hotshots," pictures coming in from around the world.
His intent to say cheers resulted in jeers for President Obama as he tried to toast the British queen. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Obama may have been the toast of the town, but when it came to toasting the queen.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I propose a toast.
MOOS: Maybe he should have stuck to toast. But instead, the president popped up and unwittingly cued the orchestra when he said the magic words.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: To her majesty, the Queen. To the vitality of the special relationship between our peoples.
RUSH LIMBAUGH, CONSERVATIVE RADIO HOST: God Save the Queen. It's a national anthem. You shut up.
MOOS: But the president soldiered on.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: And in the words of Shakespeare, to this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England, to the Queen.
MOOS: But the Queen wasn't toasting during a national anthem. The president ditched his lonely upraised glass.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But Barack figured it out, he was like, OK, I'll put the glass down.
MOOS: When it ended the toast was consummated by the queen.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: To the Queen.
MOOS: So who messed up? Was it the president or was it the musicians? On blogs, the president was called a bumpkin, a doofis, while defenders said why blame Obama? I blame the band. We turned to Royal protocol expert, William Hanson.
WILLIAM HANSON, ROYAL PROTOCOL EXPERT: The answer to the question as to who messed up would be President Obama, really.
MOOS: Hanson said someone from his staff should have briefed the president. The cue for the anthem is standard.
HANSON: You stand up and you say, the Queen.
MOOS: The gaffe?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: The vitality of the special relationship between our peoples.
MOOS: Reminded some of an awards show.
ELLEN DEGENERES: Anyway, I want to -- I want to thank Portia and my ma and my pets.
MOOS: President Obama and Britain's deputy prime minister joked about the miscue.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought you did exactly the right thing.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I thought it was like out of the movies where it was a soundtrack.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A crescendo.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: It kind of comes in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With your voice.
MOOS (on camera): The president did do something right by not doing this.
HANSON: Yes, you never clink glasses. This is not done at all anywhere.
MOOS (voice-over): As for the queen's reaction.
HANSON: Her majesty doesn't give anyone dirty looks. She's far too worldly.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: This earth, this realm, this England. To the Queen.
MOOS: One critic wrote, somewhere in London the bust of Winston Churchill is laughing at Obama. Jeanne Moos, CNN.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: To the Queen.
MOOS: New York.
BLITZER: That's all the time we have. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer. Join us weekdays in THE SITUATION ROOM from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern, every Saturday at 6 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN and at this time every weekend on CNN International. The news continues next on CNN.