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THE SITUATION ROOM
Tornado Winds Estimated at 170 Miles Per Hour; CNN's Rare Glimpse Inside Iran; Santorum Camp Energized By Michigan Despite Popular Defeat; North Korea's Agreement; Ohio School Shooting
Aired February 29, 2012 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, breaking news, deadly tornadoes could strike any moment, as a monstrous storm that flattened parts of the Midwest moves east this hour. And up-to-the mind forecast of where the danger is right now.
The popular tourist town of Branson, Missouri took a beating in the storm. I'll talk to a woman who was sleeping in her trailer home when it flipped upside down.
And for the first time in three years, CNN live inside Iran, reporting on a rift inside the country's dangerous regime. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
Breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: It's a big, ugly gash across the middle of the United States, homes and lives destroyed by a powerful storm system that's still on the move and causing damage right now. We're getting in more stunning pictures, all the way from Kansas to Kentucky, one of the latest states to take a pounding. The death toll has climbed to at least nine, three in Missouri, six in Illinois, where a tornado touched down in Harrisburg this morning, with winds estimated at 170 miles an hour.
Dozens of people are injured. We're told you can see this kind of destruction across an area that's about four football fields wide.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's unbelievable. I can't believe the measure of damage it did to this building. It's like there was just no structure and it just took it completely out. I mean, as you can tell, it's total devastation. I'm -- I've not ever seen anything like it, all the way down through this whole area. It's -- I'm just glad that it happened at night and, you know, no one was at work. This would be horrible for people to be in this building when that happened.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: A storm chaser recorded this video of a twister tearing through Kansas. Imagine -- just imagine what it might be like to see this kind of thing coming your way.
All these monster storms have been devastating. Survivors say they've never seen anything like this. We want you to see what's going on right now.
Our own Brian Todd is taking a closer look at the devastation -- Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the fact that a lot of these tornadoes touched down in the pre-dawn hours likely saved a lot of lives. But in some pockets, we are still seeing total devastation.
TODD: (voice-over): The mayor of Harrisburg, Illinois says crews are searching piece by piece for survivors through wreckage that he calls "devastating." By early indications, Harrisburg was hardest hit by the tornadoes that ripped through the Midwest, some touching down in the darkest hours of the morning. Most of the deaths were in Harrisburg.
MAYOR ERIC GREGG, HARRISBURG, ILLINOIS: We have suffered the loss of lives. We've suffered many injuries. And we've suffered millions of dollars worth of damage. But first and foremost, the loss of our lives breaks my heart today.
TODD: And those fatalities could rise in number. The mayor says the twister was on the ground for several miles, the destruction about three or four football fields wide, hundreds of houses and commercial buildings crushed.
The tornado that hit Harrisburg had an early rating of EF4, the second most powerful on the rating scale winds estimated at 170 miles an hour. At a medical center there, those winds tore off windows and the building's entire southern wall, leaving several patients' rooms exposed. One witness says hospital staffers had enough time to move those patients to the better protected center of the building before the tornado hit.
Missouri also suffered fatalities. At least one of them was a person thrown from a mobile home. In the resort town of Branson, a tornado stretched across nine miles, according to the governor. Tens of millions of dollars in damage suffered.
One resident described what it was like to be jolted awake by a twister.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We woke up to the windows shattering, exploding -- imploding on us. It was -- it was a pretty bad deal.
TODD: And listen to this account from a survivor in Kentucky.
STEVEN VAUGHT, TORNADO SURVIVOR: Well, I was laying on the couch and all of a sudden, I started hearing a -- a train. I mean when they say you hear a train, you do. And I got up and took two steps off the couch. And then me and the two dogs I have and the trailer started rolling down the hill. And you can see what's -- what's left. And after I rolled five times -- I mean I can remember everything about it. I was -- once it hit the ground on the fifth time, everything just -- I saw daylight and I was sitting up against the stove then I just leaned up with my back against it, like I was sitting in a chair.
TODD: Back in Harrisburg, Illinois, as residents were still dealing with shell shock, the mayor was resolute.
GREGG: We will rebuild this city. We will make this city stronger.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
TODD: But while they rebuild, others in that broader region will have to brace for more. Other possible tornadoes expected into tonight, possibly into Thursday. People from Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and north to Ohio could be in their path, or could possibly hit by very strong thunderstorms -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian, thank you.
We're going to have much more on the devastation. We're going to get back to it in just a moment.
But right now, there's something we rarely see. One of our own CNN correspondents, Ivan Watson, has been allowed inside Iran to report live on the country's first elections since 2009, when a bitter dispute over results sparked weeks and weeks of bloody, deadly protests.
Ivan is joining us now.
Our broadcast capability is limited, I just want to warn our viewers -- but, Ivan, there's been some talk, as you know, about a potential rift between the president, Ahmadinejad, and the Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei.
Is that what this election is now coming down to?
IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, some of the political analysts we've talked to here are saying that there -- there is competition between rival conservative factions within the regime in this election, a block of candidates supporting Ahmadinejad, and others that are basically against him and more allied with the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The reason being, there have been some public disputes over the last year where Ahmadinejad disappeared for 11 days after the supreme leader overruled his decision to -- to sack, to fire an intelligence minister. And there's been a lot of criticism and even some investigations coming from certain branches of the government into some of Ahmadinejad's top aides.
It is important to point out, though, Wolf, that the supreme leader has been making a public appeal for unity in the run-up to this vote, saying it's very important for all Iranians to come together, to put aside their differences and to show their support for 33 years of Iran's Islamic Revolution -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ivan, you're in Tehran right now. You've been speaking to lots of people there, I assume.
Do you get a sense that these international sanctions that have been placed on Iran are really having an impact, that they're working?
WATSON: Well, there has certainly been an intense devaluation, depreciation of the value of Iran's currency over the last few months against the dollar. It's dropped, by some accounts, by nearly half its value over the course of the last four months. And everybody I talk to complains about a sudden inflation in prices of just the most basic commodities, Iranian produced things like milk, that shouldn't, in -- in theory, be affected by Iran's currency and its value against the dollar.
Now, whether or not that is caused by sanctions or by government policies, that's not entirely clear. It's also not a subject that the government here wants to bring a lot of attention to, especially right before the election.
But it is hurting Iranians. People I'm talking to are telling me that they're in verge of -- on the verge of losing their businesses, importers and exporters. That hardship is being felt. And it's not clear whether the anger, as a result of that, is being directed at the government or at the U.S. Which has led this new sanctions regime against Iran.
BLITZER: Since getting there -- I don't know how long -- how long you've been in Tehran now.
What's it like?
What have you been doing?
WATSON: We've been traveling around town. We're -- there is a fair amount of suspicion about us, as -- as an American news crew here, particularly after the aftermath of those 2009 presidential elections, when you had unprecedented street protests that really challenged the legitimacy and the credibility of the Iranian government and a subsequent crackdown with a -- a lot of human rights violations reported by human rights groups and -- and activists, as well.
And also, we're -- this is coming at a time of heightened pressure and rhetoric between Iran and its rivals, the U.S. And Israel, where there is this talk of war again and again, which I think is raising some serious concern among ordinary Iranians.
Some of the suspicion? We were detained on our first night out here, Wolf, when we were just filming campaign posters, by the Basij militia, held in a police station for about three hours. We were trying to do what we were told we were allowed to do, which is ask about the elections. And one of these Basij officers accused me of trying to hurt his government.
So that gives you a little bit of a sense of some of the sensitivities and the suspicion right now.
What's fascinating, Wolf, is that the Iranians we've talked to, most of them don't talk immediately about elections. They're still .
It's important toed by the win of Iranian director, Asghar Farhadi, his best foreign film award at the Academy Awards last weekend, for his film "A Separation." Anybody I mention that to, their faces light up. That is a ray of hope for people at a time of increased isolation and international tension -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ivan Watson is on the scene for us in Tehran, Iran right now.
We'll check back with you.
Be careful over there.
We'll stay in close touch.
Ivan, thank you.
Let's get back to the big question here in the United States right now.
The National Weather Service has just confirmed that a tornado did strike Branson, Missouri, with estimates winds up to 130 miles an hour. The winds blew trucks and trailer homes upside down.
Joining us on the phone from Branson, Missouri, the storm's survivor, Donna Lowe.
Donna, thanks very much for joining us.
Tell us where you were, what happened when this tornado came through Branson.
DONNA LOWE, TORNADO SURVIVOR: Well, I was sleeping. I was in bed sleeping and I woke up because I heard the wind blowing real bad. And then I felt my trailer moving. And then the next thing I knew, I was thrown out of bed. And I think I was tossed around a bit, because I ended up standing straight up, holding onto my bed. And my bed was...
BLITZER: We're showing...
LOWE: -- (INAUDIBLE).
BLITZER: -- our viewers, Donna, pictures of -- of your trailer, of your home upside down, the devastation enormous.
So did you get injured?
Were you -- were you badly bruised, anything along those lines?
LOWE: No. When the wind started blowing, I started praying. And...
BLITZER: And -- and you survived.
LOWE: -- God got me through it. Yes, that's what I was holding onto, that bed frame right there.
BLITZER: Right there. And we can see your -- your trailer upside down over there. It's almost a miracle that you're OK like this.
BLITZER: Were there no sirens?
Did you have no warning whatsoever...
BLITZER: -- other than the -- and then you could actually hear the winds?
LOWE: I could hear the winds. That's all I heard.
BLITZER: What time did this occur?
LOWE: I have no idea. I had gone to sleep at 12:30 and I woke up once and I heard the wind right -- I heard the wind blowing. So I turned on the TV. And they said that there was a tornado going through north of us. So I thought -- and that was quite a ways from where I lived, so I thought, well, it's OK. So I went back to sleep. And I don't think I was asleep too long, because I know by 2:00 and there -- everything was over long before 2:00. So I was already out of the trailer by 2:00, so.
BLITZER: So it looks -- it's obvious that you can't live in that trailer now.
So where are you easterly?
What are you doing?
LOWE: Well, I have a very dear friend named Jamey (ph) that comes. She had a feeling something was bad, so she come looking for me last night. And she took me to her place. And she's the one that was handling, trying to get stuff salvaged, what she could, out of the trailer.
BLITZER: When that -- when that tornado came through and turned your trailer upside down, what were you holding onto? LOWE: Nothing. I didn't know I was flipped all the way over. I knew the trailer had moved. And I felt like maybe it was on its side or something. And I was afraid to more too much, afraid I'd make it, you know, move more. But I was already upside down. I just didn't know it.
BLITZER: This isn't the first time you've gone through through a tornado, is it, Donna?
LOWE: No. I was in Joplin, too. My car got destroyed in Joplin.
BLITZER: Jop -- in the -- in the Joplin tornado last year.
BLITZER: And so you've lived through that tornado. You've now lived through this tornado. And you told us you're, what, 65 years old and you have some disabilities at the same time, is that right?
LOWE: Right. Right.
BLITZER: So you -- so you've got a lot of things going on right now. But I assume the community is coming in -- Branson -- and I know it's a wonderful community there in Missouri. They're going to come together. They're not only going to rebuild, but they're going to help you get through this.
Have authorities and others helped you already?
LOWE: I have not left Jamey's (ph) house. I just -- I didn't want to go back to the trailer today. I just didn't feel up to it so Jamey took her boys and their friends, a bunch of kids, Stacey (ph) and Houston (ph) and Cody (ph) and Ramey (ph) and Richard. And they all went and was trying to get what they could salvage out of my trailer.
BLITZER: Well, good luck.
Donna Lowe in Branson, Missouri.
One story. I know there are a lot of stories there in Illinois, in Kentucky and Kansas.
BLITZER: And these tornadoes are moving in an easterly direction right now. We're easterly on top of this story.
Donna, thanks very much.
LOWE: You're welcome.
You have a great day.
BLITZER: You've seen -- thank you. You've seen the kind of damage this killer storm can cause. Stand by to find out if it's heading your direction right now.
Plus, a surprising weakness from Rick Santorum revealed by his double defeat in the popular vote last night.
Did his focus on his faith backfire?
And we've gotten more of those 911 calls that capture the terror only moments after the deadly shooting at an Ohio high school.
BLITZER Turning now to the Republican battle for the White House where Rick Santorum isn't just dismissing Mitt Romney's wins last night in Arizona and Michigan, he seems to be energized by them, and he has some reason to be energized. According to the latest delegate count, he may have lost Michigan in the popular vote, but he did win 15 delegates there, that the same number that Mitt Romney won.
Our senior correspondent, Joe Johns, is traveling with the former Pennsylvania senator in Tennessee right now. What's the latest there, John?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Well, Rick Santorum may have actually lost two state primaries last night, but today, here in Tennessee, he told me he feels like he's the big winner, because Mitt Romney had to spend so much money in his own home state of Michigan.
JOHNS (voice-over): High winds in the south delayed Rick Santorum's trip from Michigan to Knoxville, but when he got to the pulpit of this big Baptist church, he worked the weather into his speech.
RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But we have a lot of wind at our back heading here to Tennessee. And we're going to be taking it all across the Super Tuesday states.
JOHNS: It was partly true, even though Santorum lost in Michigan and Arizona, he still came in close enough in Michigan to get about the same number of delegates as Romney in his home state. And here in Tennessee and several other Super Tuesday states, Santorum was leading in the latest polls. The down side for the campaign was that a loss is still a loss, and these losses exposed his weaknesses.
After spending so much time recently making the case for the Catholic Church in a health insurance showdown with the Obama administration over contraception and touting his beliefs that faith and government should still be intertwined, Santorum actually lost the catholic vote by about six percentage points, even though he's a well- known practicing catholic himself.
(on-camera) It sounds like you lost the catholic vote last night. SANTORUM: We won Michigan last night by coming out of Michigan with 15 delegates out of 30 delegates in Mitt Romney's home state being outspent six to one, and you want to talk about one segment of the popular? Come on, Joe, this is a huge win for us. Let's play it the way it is. Don't give Romney all the stand. We went into his backyard. He spent a fortune of (ph) money he had no intention of spending.
And we came out of there with the same number of delegates he does. We are in great shape going in to this election. We are excited about what's going to happen on Super Tuesday.
JOHNS (voice-over): Santorum came under fire last week for saying that a famous speech by President John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, by the way, on separating faith and government made Santorum want to throw up, though, he now says he regrets the comment.
Social issues have long been Santorum's strong point, but campaign insiders say they're moving toward more emphasis on the economy, including high gas prices and less on social issues, because, frankly, some Republican political strategists say the economy is the first thing on voters' minds.
DOUG HEYE, FORMER RNC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Ultimately, you know, in Michigan, jobs and the economy, the auto industry, unemployment, are the overriding issue that affect every Michigan voter. And, if you're a catholic voter, you deal with those issues every day as well.
JOHNS (on-camera): Santorum has another event scheduled here in Tennessee this evening. He says he'll be heading all the Super Tuesday states, the major Super Tuesday states before next week -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Joe, thanks very much.
We're getting ready for Super Tuesday in six days, but let's get bet back to the breaking news right now. Part of the Midwest here in the United States torn apart by a deadly storm system that pushing into the mid-Atlantic region right now. At least nine people have been killed. There's more danger tonight.
Let's bring in our severe weather expert, our meteorologist, Chad Myers. First of all, Chad, where is this storm heading right now?
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We have storms with tornadoes into now Virginia, Lee County, Virginia, the very western tip there of Virginia, into Tennessee and all the way south into Mississippi. So, this is a long line of weather.
BLITZER: But this is going to be -- much of the east coast from Georgia further north if you're saying towards Virginia could be affected by this.
MYERS: All the way through the night. All the way through the nighttime hours when you're sleeping. You know what this is?
MYERS: You have one?
MYERS: There you go.
BLITZER: You're giving this to me?
MYERS: No. Weather radio. I'll give you the plug later.
MYERS: This will wake you up in the middle of the night.
BLITZER: Let me show our viewers.
MYERS: It made by (INAUDIBLE) all kinds of companies. You get the radio shack, Wal-Mart, whatever. They're 20, 30 bucks. The best $30 you'll ever spend.
BLITZER: In Washington, D.C.?
MYERS: You do. And you can program your own county or your own little area, your borough in New York.
BLITZER: You just keep this out all the time.
MYERS: You do.
BLITZER: It's battery powered.
MYERS: Exactly. The old once would go off all night long for any county in your state. It's not like that anymore. By the time the storm got to you, you had thing turned off and thrown in the yard.
This only goes of where you program it to go off, so your county, Arlington, Virginia, Fulton County, Georgia, whatever you want, you plug in your county, when there's a warning for your county, it goes off, wakes you up, you take shelter.
BLITZER: So, it's only going to wake you up if it's nearby.
BLITZER: You're not going to be getting those early morning wake-up calls unnecessarily.
MYERS: The old ones were annoying. The old ones did more damage than they did good.
BLITZER: Because I was always under the impression you need these if you're in a tornado alley in some area that really gets a lot of tornadoes, not necessarily the east coast. MYERS: Yes. Well, we had Joplin, Missouri last year. Now, we had Harrisburg, Illinois. You don't think of those as Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, not really tornado alley. They can happen anywhere, especially Birmingham and Tuscaloosa. The people there have been buying these out, literally, out of stock.
BLITZER: All right. Are you going to show us where -- show us where they're headed right now.
MYERS: Just real quick because I have just a couple of things. I have a couple of them on the ground, and I want to get to them now. This is going toward Pennington Gap into Virginia. If you were in this western part of Virginia, I need you to be taking cover here. And to the west of Knoxville, Kentucky, you have big storms developing here. There is the one moving into Pennington Gap.
West of Knoxville, Kentucky into Monterey and Mayland (ph) here. Big storm cell, and that is rotating, that's where the pink box is there, tornado warning for that storm. And then back into Mississippi all the way down the like, we have storm still going here near Blackhawk, Mississippi. Many of this will be on the ground tonight, Wolf, all night long.
It's not whether you're going to get hit or not, it's kind of that lottery. You don't want to win the lottery tonight. There will be tornadoes on the ground. Let's hope your town doesn't get in the way.
BLITZER: Yes. Severe weather is continuing. All right. Thanks, Chad. Thanks very much.
Nurses frantically struggling to keep patients safe as one tornado blows a hospital to pieces. You're going to hear their story firsthand. Our breaking news coverage will continue.
BLITZER: Look at this. These are live pictures coming in from Kentucky of the devastation courtesy of our affiliate WAVE. You can see some of the destruction in that area right there. Look at that home. That's just one home destroyed, obviously, by this series of tornadoes that's ripping through parts of the country right now in Missouri and Illinois, here in Kentucky, moving easterly right now.
We're getting severe weather throughout the east coast of the United States. Harrisburg, Illinois in the southern part of the state was pummeled by a tornado with estimated winds up to 170 miles an hour. George Sells is a reporter with CNN affiliate, KTVI. He's joining us from Harrisburg right now. Set the scene for us, George. What was it like? I assume you lived through this tornado experience firsthand.
GEORGE SELLS, KTVI REPORTER: Well, the storm raised through here. It was about five o'clock this morning when it hit the area here in Harrisburg. That storm system was moving 60 miles an hour, if you think about a storm moving that quickly as best as you drive under interstate (ph) highway.
And what it brought with it, like you said, the tornado, an EF-4 tornado, a 170-mile an hour wind. To give you an idea of some of the damage, just take a look over here. I actually had to ask somebody how many businesses were in this strip mall before this morning. There were seven stores here a dollar tree, a sporting goods store among others, and the place was absolutely leveled.
The good news here, it was 5:00 in the morning. No one was here, basically, but you go to some video. And the bad news about that, the very bad news about this predawn storm is the fact that so many people were asleep in their beds and not awakened by tornado sirens. Six people now confirmed dead, some of the worst of it in a neighborhood not far, maybe 300 yards from where I'm standing.
A bunch of new duplex homes, many elderly people living there, and at least four of the six confirmed deaths took place there. I talked to a young woman, 24 years old, who spent two hours this morning digging for rubble looking for her grandmother. Her husband, eventually, was among the rescuers who found the body, and it went on from there.
A number of people by this afternoon were digging through the wreckage, trying to find anything they could as far as belongings, things that they can salvage (ph), but earlier in the day, that digging had been for people.
Reporting here about -- more than 100 people injured in this storm in addition to the six dead. And then you get into the property damage about 100 -- somewhere between 250 and 300 homes either damaged or destroyed just in this small city of Harrisburg, Illinois, and 25 businesses, either damaged or destroyed in Harrisburg, a lot of people telling stories of sleeping through the sirens, hearing the sound of the tornado itself that being the thing that woke them up.
One woman we spoke to she said the sound of the tornado woke her, she went, grabbed her kids, ran into a hallway, they didn't have a basement, and a door blew off the hinges, blew on top of them and that may well have saved their lives. She and her twin 6-year-old boys under that door as the windows and glass in the home just exploded in on them. Scary moments for folks her in Harrisburg, Illinois and an enormous task ahead in trying to clean up. We're live in Harrisburg. I'm George Sells -- back to you.
BLITZER: George thanks very much. George Sells is with our affiliate KTVI. Let's go to a survivor right now of this horrible storm who's trying to put the pieces of her life back together. We're joined on the phone by Alice Retzloff; she's a resident of Harrisburg, Illinois. She has been undergoing treatment for colon cancer. Alice, first of all, how are you doing right now? How are you?
ALICE RETZLOFF, TORNADO SURVIVOR (via phone): We're good. We came through the storm relatively well, compared to our neighbors, and just 20 feet from us it's total devastation.
BLITZER: Now this happened at 4:30 in the morning. I assume you were sound asleep. What happened? Walk us through what you heard and then what you saw.
RETZLOFF: Yes. We were asleep and my daughters live with me. My daughter did know that there were storms in the Missouri area. They were forecasting to come through possibly our area and she stayed awake and monitored the storm via the news and Internet. And she came in (INAUDIBLE) I guess sometime after 4:00, and woke us up and said we all need to get in the basement, that it was -- had been in Poplar Bluff (ph) and was coming our way. And we went to the basement and took cover and the tornado sirens went off, and it was a few minutes later the sirens went off again, and there was a loud boom, and then it was just silence.
We came up from our basement and looked out our back door and there is a FF (ph) feed and gas station catty-corner (ph) from us that was totally flattened, a grain silo blown into the alley behind our House. Our neighbors were fleeing from their house, because it had just ripped right through their house, and we smelled gas, and we didn't know if it was coming from the gas station. And we all were going to try to get out of our homes, but it was still dark. Our neighbors went running for their truck, but their truck was totally demolished.
BLITZER: We're showing our viewers a picture of your home right now, Alice. That's the picture you sent us and we can see the destruction there, Alice Retzloff, good luck to you. Good luck to your family, all the residents of Harrisburg, Illinois. And good luck -- I know you're going to have some problems getting your chemo treatment for your colon cancer. Are you going to be able to get to the hospital to do that?
RETZLOFF: At this point they're saying no. I've tried to contact my doctor, and they said that I was on a list, that they would be calling to let me know what procedure to follow, but I haven't been contacted as of yet.
BLITZER: Alice Retzloff, good luck to you. We're praying for all the residents in this area. Appreciate it very much.
RETZLOFF: Thank you.
BLITZER: We'll have more on the story later, but there's other important news we're following, including a potential, potential breakthrough some are suggesting in the nuclear standoff with North Korea. The country's new leader Kim Jung Un (ph) be trusted though.
Plus, more 911-calls capturing the terrifying moments after that deadly shooting at an Ohio high school, our Martin Savidge is on the scene. And our iReporter show us tornado and storm damage up close.
BLITZER: A potential breakthrough in the tense relationship between the United States and a key adversary, North Korea, the reclusive nation now saying it agrees to halt all nuclear testing and missile launches in exchange for food aid. The development comes just months after the death of its leader Kim Jong Il. Joining us now is our national security contributor, the former Bush homeland security adviser Fran Townsend. Fran, a lot of us are sort of skeptical about this deal. What do you make of it?
FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Wolf, look, I think Americans ought to be rightly skeptical. When I was in the Bush administration, we did this dance with them, where they agreed not to continue with enrichment and the whole panoply (ph) of promises that they didn't -- they failed to keep. But in fairness now I think secretary Clinton is right. This is a modest step in the wrong direction with a new regime.
It's the son of Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un. The administration has rightly insisted on the fact that there ought to be IAEA inspectors in there to verify, and they've conditioned that the food aid they want to be able to monitor it, ensure that it does not go to the elites and to the military, which is a common problem with food aid and other aid, humanitarian aid in North Korea. And so I think the administration is sort of rightly skeptical and cautious about moving forward, but I think this is a necessary step. They're going to have to try to see if they can make better progress with the son than they made with the -- than we made with the father.
BLITZER: Yes. It's fascinating to me, as someone who's been to North Korea, I was there just a little bit more than a year or so ago, that this is really the first major decision on the part of the new leader Kim Jong Un, who is maybe only 28 years old and we're going to be assessing in the coming days precisely what this means. Fran thanks very, very much.
TOWNSEND: You're welcome.
BLITZER: But an important potential development in North Korea. Meanwhile, disturbing new details emerging about the troubled family life of the suspect in that deadly Ohio school shooting. We've gotten some access to his juvenile records. Stand by.
And one person says it looks like a bomb went off. More personal stories inside those deadly tornadoes right here in the United States.
BLITZER: We're getting some new information about Monday's deadly school shooting in Ohio just outside of Cleveland. Let's get right to CNN's Martin Savidge, he's standing by in Chardon, Ohio. He has got some disturbing new details about the suspect's troubled past. What are you learning, Martin?
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're talking about the accused shooter, T.J. Lane, what we wanted to find out was did he have any kind of juvenile record. Those are usually off limits. However, we filed a petition with the courts and actually we were able to gain access to the records.
Here's what we found so far. In December of 2009, T.J. Lane was involved in an assault which he apparently put another boy in a chokehold and punched him in the face. He decided to plea to the lesser offense of disorderly conduct. He also has a traffic ticket.
We want other records. We're still working to get those. Meanwhile, though, we have been talking to this community. The biggest concern by many is what motivation could he possibly have? Well there, too, we've been doing more digging, looking at documents, seeing if they reveal anything. Here's what we found.
SAVIDGE (voice-over): When accused high school shooter T.J. Lane first faced a judge after his alleged killing spree neither his mother or father were in the courtroom. It was a telling sign.
OPERATOR: 911, what's your emergency?
CALLER: This is the principal of Chardon again.
OPERATOR: Yes, go ahead.
CALLER: The alleged shooter ran out the back door down the easement towards the tennis courts past the pool.
OPERATOR: Towards the tennis courts. OK.
CALLER: All right?
OPERATOR: OK. Do you have any description of clothing?
CALLER: We have white t-shirt, shaggy dark hair, tall, skinny.
OPERATOR: Shaggy, dark hair.
CALLER: We have a name that we think.
OPERATOR: Is that Thomas?
SAVIDGE: Monday's rampage at Chardon High left three students dead, two wounded, and many more mentally scarred.
RYAN DOYLE, CHARDON HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: And I turned around and I saw a shooter with a gun pointed towards somebody sitting down on the bench, kind of turned away.
SAVIDGE (on camera): Did you see the gun go off?
SAVIDGE (voice-over): Since then this small tight-knit community has been asking one question -- why. Authorities say Lane hasn't given them any reason for the attacks.
DAVID JOYCE, CEAUGA CO. OHIO PROSECUTOR: He chose his victims at random. This is not about bullying. This is not about drugs. SAVIDGE: Documents show T.J. Lane had a troubled home life and that his parents often led by violent example. Police reports obtained by CNN show officers were frequently called to the home to break up domestic fights. Court documents also show T.J.'s father, Tom Lane, suffered from anger management issues and depression, at one point even attempting suicide. He spent time in and out of jail.
A court document from 2002 describes a particularly violent attack by Tom Lane on another woman. It reads -- "he strangled his ex-wife by the throat until she lost consciousness for several seconds, also held victim's head over a washing machine and poured cold water from a utility hose over her nose and mouth preventing her from breathing". Tom Lane was convicted of polonius (ph) assault and sentenced to four years in prison. Such was T.J. Lane's unstable family background. Even prosecutor David Joyce seemed to hint that it could be an argument for the defense.
JOYCE: This is someone who is not well and I'm sure in our court case will prove that to all of your desires and we'll make sure that justice is done.
BLITZER: Martin, hold on for a moment because I want to play for our viewers some more of those desperate 911-calls that are shedding new light on the utter panic, the fear that unfolded in the moments after Monday's deadly Ohio school shooting. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OPERATOR: 911, where is your emergency?
CALLER: We just had a shooting at our school. We need to get out of here. Oh, my God --
OPERATOR: OK. Ma'am, we've got a school shooting. Ma'am, what school?
CALLER: Chardon High School.
OPERATOR: Chardon High School?
CALLER: Yes, ma'am.
OPERATOR: All right. (INAUDIBLE) OK --
CALLER: Everyone is running away, so --
OPERATOR: Where is the student with the gun?
CALLER: I don't know. He was in the cafeteria, and everyone just started running.
OPERATOR: Did you see the shooter? Are you a student?
CALLER: Yes. Yes, I'm a student. I was right by the shooter when he pulled the gun.
OPERATOR: OK and who was the shooter?
CALLER: His name is Thomas Lane.
OPERATOR: You see him shoot how many?
CALLER: I saw him take out two, and then I was gone. I was out of there.
OPERATOR: OK. Were the students still alive?
CALLER: I don't know, ma'am. I didn't even check. I just got out as fast as I could.
OPERATOR: OK, but they went down, right?
CALLER: Yes, they were laying on the ground in blood.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Martin, I take it that Chardon High School is going to be reopened formally, when, on Friday, but tomorrow they're going to have some counseling? What's the latest in terms of this community trying to get back to at least some semblance of normality?
SAVIDGE: Wolf, they're carefully trying to do this in a very precise order. Today they actually had counseling available for any student that thought or needed it. Tomorrow what they're going to do is they're going to allow the parents and the students together to go back to the high school for the first time to see it in the aftermath, and then officially classes are expected to begin on Friday. There have already been groups that say that they will show up on Friday and be there to line the walkways of the high school to help welcome the students back. It's going to be a very difficult, a very emotional day. But it's a day that has to come -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Good luck to all the folks in Chardon. Appreciate it very much, Martin Savidge doing great reporting for us, as he always does.
We're going to have much more on the devastating tornadoes tearing across much of the United States right now. You're going to hear some personal accounts from our own CNN iReporters, that's coming up next.
BLITZER: We've been showing you some gut-wrenching pictures of the damage from those deadly storms that have ripped through much of the Midwest. Now some more personal accounts of what it was like when it hit. Here's CNN's Mary Snow.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is what's left of the patient's room at Illinois's Harrisburg Medical Center. Fortunately nobody there was hurt. Nurse Practitioner Jane Harper took these photos. She says nurses rushed to move about a dozen patients to safety after a tornado warning sounded at roughly 4:30 in the morning. And then --
JANE HARPER, HARRISBURG, ILLINOIS: What I heard was the explosion when the windows blew out and the wall came off and the front door blew open and the ceiling came down and the water started and the fire alarm went off and metal doors closed and it was total chaos because the power was out. But what I heard really I think was the windows blowing out.
SNOW: Harper credits the staff and patients with staying calm, and says there was no time to get scared. She was stunned to later learn that the tornado that tore through Harrisburg was so strong it brought winds up to 170 miles per hour.
HARPER: We didn't even know the wall had come out until people started checking the rooms to make sure everybody was out. And I walked down and opened the door to this one room and there was no room there. And none of us realized that there had been that extent of damage until we started the last check to make sure everybody was out.
SNOW: In Branson, Missouri where a tornado was also confirmed, Steve Schmaranzer (ph) says he didn't realize how strong the storm was until he saw boat docks crumpled behind his building and then surveyed his town.
STEVE SCHMARANZER (via phone): It just looks like -- I mean literally it looks like a bomb went off. I mean it's just amazing. I mean you'll see one building that's perfectly fine, you look across the street and the Branson Variety Theater (ph), which was formerly a Bobbie Vinton's Theater (ph), it is just totally destroyed. I mean there's just a few walls standing up and it's hard to explain because you've never experienced something like this.
SNOW: And Wolf, officials in Branson, Missouri are relieved about one thing. And that is that there weren't more people in Branson at the time of the tornado. It's a resort city has a lot of musical theaters and the prime tourist season doesn't start for another couple of weeks -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes it could have been a whole, whole lot worse. Thanks very much, Mary for that. Up next, why Alec Baldwin is suggesting some women may be liars.
BLITZER: Love her or hate her, the reality TV star Snooki has become a household word. And now the word following her name on everyone's lips seems to be pregnant. The 24-year-old star herself isn't talking, but everyone else seems to be. CNN's Jeanne Moos has more.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Even if the idea of watching "Jersey Shore" makes you ill --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really have to throw up.
MOOS: -- there's no playing hooky from Snooki.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God!
MOOS: You can't escape her or the rumors of her pregnancy that have been reproducing like rabbits.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh-oh looks like Snooki has a meatball in the oven.
MOOS: Now page six of the "New York Post" says it's confirmed and several Web sites also say she's three or four months pregnant. This despite previous denial --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I definitely do want kids, but I'm not pregnant.
MOOS: -- after denial.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you're saying no? You're saying no to this obviously?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
MOOS: She acted offended saying people must think she looks fat.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like an insult kind of. It sucks because you know being pregnant should be like you know a real thing and a happy thing and I'm not.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't women always lie when they're pregnant?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well the first trimester you certainly --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, you want to get through --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- don't, you want to get through it; you don't want to jinx anything so you don't say anything.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So isn't Snooki entitled to the same thing everybody else is?
MOOS: Normally people are all goo-goo-ga-ga (ph) over birth announcements. But instead of people talking about a bundle of Jersey joy, already the kid's being called Jersey spore. Comments online were merciless. Didn't Governor Christie declare her uterus a disaster area?
According to page six, the father is her boyfriend, Jionni Lavow (ph), seen on the show too wasted to return Snooki's affection.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) you're supposed to kiss me (INAUDIBLE) just a sucky boyfriend tonight.
MOOS: Well no baby that night. On "Live with Kelly" the hostess analyzed Snooki's recent behavior on the show when they played a game trying to bust balloons squished between partners.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She refused to play with us.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because she didn't want to bust the balloon.
MOOS (on camera): And if Snooki snookered interviewers by lying, well interviewers tried to snooker her back. Wendy Williams used beer to trap her in a Super Bowl toast.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you're not pregnant.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE)
MOOS (voice-over): But Snooki makes no bones about it. She wants babies.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) babies.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If your babies come out not tanned what will happen?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'll spray them.
MOOS: From the delivery room direct to the tanning salon, Jeanne Moos, CNN, who are you calling a spore?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Huh?
MOOS: New York.
BLITZER: Thank you very much. That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. The news continues next on CNN.