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EARLY START WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Tornado Outbreak Stuns Heartland; Winner Take Some; Twelve Killed In Tornado Outbreak; A Show Of Gratitude

Aired March 1, 2012 - 05:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. And welcome to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin in New York.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Ashleigh Banfield in Harrisburg, Illinois, a scene of destruction and death. I'm in front of an apartment complex where six people lost their lives.

I'll bring you the whole story from here and from the whole area in the South and Midwest that was hit by these deadly storms.

SAMBOLIN: And winner-take-some. Mitt Romney wins Michigan but splits the delegates with Rick Santorum. Romney also picking up another state. This all happening right before Super Tuesday.

And after three days at sea without power which is, of course, means no lights, but also no toilets, no showers and pirate-infested waters, a cruise ship arrives in port finally. And people, boy, they have some stories to tell.

But first, we're going to get right over Ashleigh, live for us in Harrisburg.

And, Ashleigh, I was reading that it looks like a bomb went off. I was looking at the aerial pictures, just total devastation where you are.

BANFIELD: It definitely looks like a bomb went off. Just look behind me at the Garden Heights apartments. It's hard to believe this was an apartment, but to the fact that you can actually see the car in the smashed garage.

Then when you look threw the wreckage in so many of these homes, you can see remnants of life, bathrooms turned up side down, beds, closets, just wholesale destruction of families and lives here in this community.

This particular apartment building as I said right off the top of the show, six people lost their lives here. That's the entire death toll for this town of 9,000.

I want to give you at least a feel for the swath of these deadly storms. At least 12 people dead across the Midwest as well as the South. Again, six of them right here in Harrisburg.

About 100 people injured right here in this community. But it's thought to be that injuries, running from everything to scratches to serious trauma run to about over 200 people.

The tornado system that came through here was an F-4. That's just about as bad as they can get. It's about the second down from the worst kind of tornado that's out there. And it struck just before 5:00 in the morning yesterday, just before we were going on the air, Zoraida.

So, so many people in their homes, and that could be a good thing that they're not out in cars and stores. They could actually do get the warnings. And the warnings were pretty good. About 25 minutes to a half an hour. A lot of people could take shelter. But, of course, many people could not either.

The storm was moving at 60 miles an hour. That is not the kind of storm can you outrun. So, obviously, the town taken by surprise because this isn't even considered tornado season. This is the dead of winter.

I want to bring in Christy Stewart, who is a reporter for "The Daily Register."

You've been covering a lot of local and state and federal issues with regard to this. Can you just give me a feel right now, Christy, for what the response is? Is FEMA involved? Where is the help coming from? Is it coming fast enough?

CHRISTY STEWART, THE DAILY REGISTER: I have heard from a lot of state officials that they're trying to get as much help and support from state that they can. But the overall response that I really felt from people in the community is just a sense of hope. People are really coming together and being very supportive.

Everyone is really, you know, surprised, but heartened by that through all this, you know, awful destruction. They're seeing kind of (INAUDIBLE) than that.

BANFIELD: And it's hard to even seen say that. I mean, if you look behind you, at the same time, it looks as though a bulldozer has come through and wiped these families and these lives away.

I know you had a chance to talk to some of the politicians -- local, state, federal as well. What's then the response of the politicians?

STEWART: I mean, pretty much the same. They're just shocked. It's disheartening to see this kind of damage in the community. You know, you drive by these places every day and suddenly they're not there anymore.

But, you know, I think there is also hope just from the support that they've been seeing from everyone involved. We've had emergency crews working all night long, people from all over the area, all over the state coming to help.

BANFIELD: And they moved in fairly quickly, too. I mean, if we think about -- it was only 24 hours ago, Zoraida and I we begun our program and started to hear word of breaking news of these tornadoes coming through.

As I was coming into town, I've got to be completely honest, I thought we were in the wrong place, because the north part of town looks great. And then, all of a sudden, you show up here and the reality kicks in.

Do the people here get it? Do they know how lucky they are if they lived in one area and how unlucky so many others were?

STEWART: Well, that's absolutely right. I agree with that. I'm not sure. Honestly, I think some people who have power haven't seen the news reports. People are getting on Facebook and photos are starting to trickle in.

So, there are people in the areas that are completely intact and haven't been affected. And it's shocking to see these photos, you know, just a few miles away.

BANFIELD: Yes. I mean, this is considered part of the, you know, tornado district. We see these things on television. Every year we see these tornado disasters.

Are people here accustomed to that, or was this the sort of thing that they have never seen the powers of those winds like that here?

STEWART: I don't think you can ever get accustomed to that. I mean, we've seen some major storm damage but nothing like this ever.

BANFIELD: I know that this is your community. Live and work. So you're covering people here all the time.

Are you getting a sense for -- you said it at the beginning of the interview -- sense of hope or are you getting a sense where people are just bewildered and hope is sometime down the road?

STEWART: Some of both. But it's actually shocking how hopeful people can get in a situation like this and how supportive and how much people want to help each other. Everyone's just been, you know, trying to figure out what they can do to help.

So, I think that should bring a little hope for all of us.

BANFIELD: And this is the area that was worst hit, this apartment complex. I mean, it's hard to tell. It's dark. We just signed on, 4:00 in the morning local time here.

But this swath of devastation sort of just -- you can really look at the path. It's 200 yards wide. It just moves straight down in a south easterly direction. There are a lot of homes back there as well.

Anything as bad as this or is this really just the worst it got?

STEWART: This is -- this is the worst I've seen. I know like the strip mall over next to Wal-Mart got hit really hard, some businesses around that area. But as far as homes, you know, like a neighborhood, this is -- this is definitely the worst.

BANFIELD: Well, Christy, you have your work cut out for you. I really appreciate you coming out at this hour. Thanks so much for being with us. Good luck you to and good luck to your community as well.

STEWART: Thank you so much.

BANFIELD: Thanks for coming out to us.

I want to mention as well. I mentioned at the beginning at the program that this community -- Harrisburg -- was definitely the hardest hit among those communities and cities and states that were hit by this series of storm systems. Again, six dead here. But there are 12 dead in total from these storms.

One of the local reporters had a chance to do some interviews and get some perspective. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LES WINKELER, THE SOUTHERN ILLINOISAN: You knew this wasn't an ordinary storm. It just sounded different. It was kind of an eerie calm that I had because you knew there was nothing you could do anyway, so you just laid there and just hoped your house didn't come down around you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: I want to remind you that in Branson, Missouri, the storm system, it was a very unusual hit. Some people call it a direct hit. Other people say it really hopscotched through Branson, Missouri.

And if you know Branson, you know that's kind of a tourist capital. It's like a mini Vegas. It's an entertainment capital. There is a strip of entertainment facilities and musical theaters. And they got pretty hard hit through the series of storms as well.

It's southwestern Missouri is where the storm systems hit. The winds here were 170 miles an hour. But there, they were 130 miles an hour. The marquee musical theaters got hit. A convention center there as well was hit.

And apparently the swath of destruction in Branson was seven miles long along that entertainment strip. And 400 yards wide. If you do the math, think about it, it's four football fields wide. So that was an enormous system that passed through Branson, Missouri.

Apparently the storm was on the ground there for 20 minutes. So, imagine the kind of destruction that was -- you know, that community was undergoing for 20 minutes of 130 mile an hour winds. Cars were crushed, rubble everywhere, three dozen injuries that we know of so far.

City officials, though, I tell you this are grateful, hard to say. That grateful this didn't happen two weeks from now when the key tourism season kicks in.

Rob Marciano is joining us now live.

And, Rob, I keep that this -- while it's calm here after the storm, the deadly systems may not be over yet.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, we're going to recharge the atmosphere starting come tomorrow unfortunately, Ashleigh. And we're going to go over that in just a second.

First, as reminder of what kind of damage these things can do. Where Ashleigh is there in Harrisburg, EF-4, with 170 miles an hour winds on lower end there. And, you know, most of the other tornadoes that did damage, including Branson and in through Kentucky, EF-2s, but still 120, 130 mile an hour winds, and that's enough to produce tremendous amount of damage.

We'll be getting more reports in from the National Weather Service as we send our teams out to survey once again more thoroughly the exact path, how wide, how long and we'll begin to learn a little bit more about what happened yesterday.

All right. What's going on today? We don't have as much as a threat. That pretty much is over. No watch boxes out right now.

We have thunderstorms that are rolling across the south. But they are nowhere near the strength we saw during the day yesterday.

Speaking of, I want to show you this video from Newburgh, Indiana. This is just south and east of Evansville where an EF-1 tornado hit, around this time or maybe an hour or so from now, about an hour after the one hit Harrisburg.

This is likely the same cell that hit Harrisburg, but luckily, it weakened by the time it got to Newburgh. But luckily, I mean, look at that, that's just from an EF-1 damage there. And we do expect to se a threat for tornadoes as we go on through -- as we go through tomorrow.

A slight threat today through the nation's midsection, but I think a greater threat as this storm which has a lot of energy with it comes out of the Rockies and into the plains tomorrow. And highlighted by the storm prediction center as a moderate risk here, two days out, that's pretty serious stuff. What's different today or tomorrow, Ashleigh, is that it will be shifted more to the east, the track is a little bit more to the east.

So, hopefully, Harrisburg and southern Illinois will be spared. But they're in the shaded area of slight risk. So pretty wide swath of real estate that will be under the gun tomorrow.

Back to you.

BANFIELD: All right, Rob. Thanks very much. I want to remind viewers as well. I mentioned not only Harrisburg where I am in Illinois, but then also Branson, Missouri. Tennessee also suffering deaths, three deaths there as well -- still not confirmed whether they were tornadoes necessarily. But straight line winds, tornadoes, whatever it was, devastating damage there as well with three deaths reported in Tennessee.

And if you want to help, there is certainly a lot of ways that you can. I want to direct your attention to CNN.com/impact -- CNN.com/impact. If you go to our Web site and you click on that, you can find an array of different organizations where you can reach out and you can lend your assistance in any way you can.

And can I tell you one thing? If there's one thing I heard since arriving in this town, they're going to need a lot of help just here -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: You know what, Ashleigh? I was reading online that there are a lot of volunteers signing up. And they are requesting more.

I got to tell you -- looking behind you, Ashleigh, I cannot believe that anybody survived the collapse of that building behind you.

BANFIELD: You know, I'll tell you something. There is a really harrowing story about a man who came here to get his mother. When this report came out that this area had been hit, he came to find his mother. He found her. He found her alive, rushed her to the hospital.

I'm very sad to report this morning she did not survive.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, my gosh.

All right. Ashleigh, we're going to continue checking in with you. I know that you're talking to a lot of people in that area. Thank you for that.

In other news this morning, thousands of government troops have reportedly unleashed a full scale assault on the Syrian city of Homs. Opposition says water, food and communication cut off in some of the areas there. The government forces are bombarding the rebel stronghold in the Baba Amr district. The top Syrian officials vowing to cleanse, that is a quote, cleanse that region of all opposition fighters.

And with Super Tuesday five days away, chalk up another win for Mitt Romney. Romney is campaigning or was campaigning right there in Ohio yesterday. Santorum is looking for votes in Tennessee. Eleven states are up for grabs between now and Super Tuesday.

So, Wyoming caucuses have taken place throughout February. The final results right there for you -- Romney, 39 percent; Santorum, 32 percent; 26 delegates at stake. And CNN projects ten for Romney and nine for Santorum.

Romney's victory in Michigan on Tuesday is feeling a little hollow now. He won by three points. He got the popular vote. But 30 delegates were up for grabs. You know, 15 went for Romney, 15 for Santorum. Santorum is now calling that a tie.

Here is a delegate scoreboard for you: Romney with 181, Santorum with 61, Gingrich with 39, Paul with 33. But 1,144 delegates are needed to clinch the nomination. So we still have a bit to go there.

So after three days at sea without power, the Costa Allegra cruise ship has finally docked in the Seychelles. And listen to this. It was towed by pretty small French fishing boats. More than 1,000 passengers were met by waiting buses.

It was a fire in the engine room that left that ship stranded. They still don't have a cause as to how that fire started. But you know those folks were without lights, no toilets, no showers since Monday. So they have quite a story to tell.

Minding your business this morning.

U.S. stock markets closing lower across the board yesterday. The Dow, NASDAQ and S&P 500 all in the red. But since the start of the year, we have big gains. The Dow up 6 percent; the S&P 500, the best indicator for your investments, up more than 8 percent. And the tech heavy NASDAQ --

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Wow.

SAMBOLIN: -- whoo-hoo, 14 percent.

Christine Romans is back.

And, Christine, there is a Wall Street story this morning about Bank of America considering more fees.

ROMANS: I know.

SAMBOLIN: They have to make up all their money, right? All their losses.

ROMANS: All those gains in the stock market, don't bank them, I guess, right? Because look, the big banks as we've been reporting to you for a couple of years now, they're looking for ways to raise money. They're doing that by finding ways to put more fees on basic checking.

"Wall Street Journal" this morning reporting that Bank of America is again considering new ways to raise money. It will be up to $25 in new fees. They're testing this on something called an essentials account in Georgia, Arizona and Massachusetts -- different kinds of fees for different things.

But, Zoraida, there are ways to avoid those fees. We've seen this in a lot of different banks as well. For example, direct deposit might be one way. In this particular case, it would be things like maintaining the minimum balance for your type of account, using the credit card tied to a bank of America, taking a mortgage with the bank. If the bank has a mortgage with you and you're doing other kinds of banking, that would be a way to avoid some of these fees.

It's been something that we've seen before because the banks, you know, in the '80s and the years since then, they rollout a basic checking account for a young person really to get them, you know, hooked as a first time customer with the bank. And then that would be free maybe. But then they hope for you to get a mortgage and maybe get more money and do direct deposit. There are ways for the bank to make more money.

Now they're not making as much money as they used to on the bank accounts because of Congress closing down their fee machines. So, now, they're trying to find ways to do it.

SAMBOLIN: Well, it seems a bit unfair, though, right? So, I would imagine that folks are going to be in an uproar like they were last time when this was suggested and perhaps, you know, cause this to be reversed.

ROMANS: It's interesting because there was an uproar against Bank of America before. So they are being very careful about how they do it.

But just earlier this week, a JPMorgan executive, comments from him, anybody under $100,000, they don't make any money off of them. So, they're not in the business of just being nice, getting your bank account, right? They're in the business to make money from us. If they're not making money from us, how are they going to make money?

SAMBOLIN: That's one of the options, right?

ROMANS: You do.

And last year we know the turnover for these banks was unbelievable. People going to community banks, going to nonprofit credit unions and avoiding fees that way.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So there are your options. Thank you very much, Christine.

All right. For now, we're going to go back to Harrisburg, Illinois. Ashleigh is there. Six reported confirmed death there.

What else can you tell us, Ashleigh?

BANFIELD: Well, six dead here -- 12 dead in total from the storms.

In Branson, Missouri, while it may have escaped a death toll, there is a big toll in that community. The entertainment district has been absolutely slammed by the series of storms.

And coming up after the break, I'm going to speak with the mayor of Branson. She's going to talk to me a little bit about how this could have been so much worse but for the timing.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START.

I'm Zoraida Sambolin in New York.

And Ashleigh Banfield is live in Harrisburg, Illinois, for us. We're going to talk to her in a minute.

It's time to check the stories making news this morning.

At least 12 people have died in that tornado outbreak across the Midwest. Six alone in the southern Illinois town of Harrisburg. That's where Ashleigh is, 20 twisters were spotted in at least seven states.

Thousands of Syrian government troops bombarding a rebel stronghold in the battered city of Homs overnight. A top Syrian official vowing to cleanse the Baba Amr district of all opposition fighters.

And Egypt is lifting a travel ban on seven Americans facing trial for allegedly stirring up unrest, working for foreign-funded nongovernmental organizations. They are able to leave the country, but only if they post $300,000 in bail.

And the FBI is investigating the disappearance of a passenger from a Celebration Cruise Liner somewhere between the Bahamas and the Florida coast. She was reported missing by her boyfriend.

And in just a few hours, same-sex marriage will be a law in Maryland. That's when Governor Martin O'Malley signs a civil marriage protection act making Maryland the eighth state to allow gay couples to marry.

Now, let's head over to Harrisburg, Illinois. That's where Ashleigh is.

And, Ashleigh, when I got the e-mail that you were heading in that direction, I thought gosh, I wonder if it's going to be difficult to get in there?

BANFIELD: You know, it is difficult to get where I am. And this took some special arranging because there's a curfew, 6:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m.

The people who live here, who have family members here, at the Garden Heights apartment where I'm standing where six people died are not allowed to come here. Most people aren't allowed to come into the zone that was worse hit.

But there are areas of this city that are completely unscathed. And you see that haphazard nature of the tornado the moment you arrive here. And this is Illinois.

In Branson, Missouri, haphazard is the word of the day. Those tornadoes hopscotched through there as well. But the swath was seven miles long of destruction and damage.

And you know as well as I do, Branson, Missouri, is known for its country music entertainment district. And that swath was seven miles of commercial district that was damaged. And hundred twenty to 130 mile an hour winds screaming through that community. Many people said a direct hit.

But I'll tell what you, that hit, whether it was direct or hopscotching, was on the ground for 20 minutes. And it did a great deal of damage.

Joining me now live to talk about where that community is and where it's going to be going is the mayor of Branson, Raeanne Presley.

Mayor Presley, thanks so much for being with us.

I heard you were in your basement when these tornadoes hit your community. Describe for me how this happened for you and when you jumped into official mode.

MAYOR RAEANNE PRESLEY, BRANSON, MISSOURI (via telephone): Well, we've seen the storm coming most of the evening. And I think that was a great help to our community as well. And, of course, following the Joplin storm last year, I think we all paid more attention. The sirens went off and sufficient time for people to find shelter.

Yes, I was with the family -- in the basement with my family as well. Shortly thereafter, I mean literally within five minutes, the city administrators called and said that he knew now that via our police that we had significant damage and it was put on your tennis shoes and get out on the street and see how you can help.

BANFIELD: And -- but for the timing of this storm, if this would have been two weeks from now, that's peak tourist season for you all. You might have expected 60,000 additional people in your community.

PRESLEY: Well, spring break gears up. We have the NAIA fall tournaments here. And, yes, we fill up pretty quickly. So, I think we were blessed it was still a bit quiet. We did have visitors in town and we did many of our things open. But not like the numbers you have and I think that was a blessing.

BANFIELD: Tell me a little bit about the damage on the commercial strip. I mentioned before seven miles of commercial district was directly affected by the series of storms. The musical theaters everybody knows well. The entertainment areas and I hear the convention center also partly damaged. Give me an assessment.

PRESLEY: Well, we were fortunate. It still was limited in nature although I see the pictures and they are really difficult.

We have about 50 theaters in Branson. We believe about five to six were significantly damaged. We have 200 hotels. We think probably about 15 of those were significantly damaged.

Many of our major attractions through our city, Sight & Sound and Titanic, were not damaged at all. So, we'll be open for business in short order. And we'll be hoping those who did suffer this damage to rebuild.

BANFIELD: Well, Mayor Presley, I think you're lucky that your community got away unscathed. Certainly where I'm standing that is not the story.

I heard folks from Joplin, Missouri, are coming to aid you and you did the same for them last year. So, I wish your community well. Thanks for being with us.

PRESLEY: Thank you very much.

BANFIELD: All right. Back to you, Zoraida. We'll have more a little bit later on from this location.

SAMBOLIN: Ashleigh, if I could just ask you a question. Where are folks going for shelter?

BANFIELD: Sure.

SAMBOLIN: Because it does look like that's, you know, seriously hard hit there.

BANFIELD: Yes, the First Baptist Church was opened almost right away. And there were a number of people who were seeking refuge there because power went out. People couldn't even get reports on whether the systems were done, whether they were safe. So I have heard by three hours past the storm, there were already 100 volunteers who had signed up to lend assistance in any way possible, whether they needed food, shelter, meals, cooking, anything.

And most of that command center is coming out of First Baptist Church here in Harrisburg. But it has certainly done wonders for these folks.

And, actually, not far away, you'll see this later on, I was at a Wal-Mart. I already saw the crates of water that were out on the front parking lot, assuming that they were headed for those emergency shelters and those in need.

SAMBOLIN: You know, the generosity of strangers never ceases to amaze me. Thank you for that. We're going to check in with you later.

And ahead on EARLY START, relations with North Korea thawing. They agree to halt all nuclear testing. We're going to tell what you the U.S. is giving them in return.

And U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling it a modest first step in the right direction.

You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Ashleigh is live for you in --

BANFIELD: I'm Ashleigh Banfield live in Harrisburg, Illinois, the scene of the deadliest tornadoes in the swath that was cut through the southeast of the United States yesterday.

SAMBOLIN: And good morning to you all. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin back in New York. We're going to head to the scene of the devastating Midwest tornadoes in a few moments. But first, we're going to take a quick check of all the stories that are making news this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Now at least 12 people have died in that tornado outbreak across the Midwest, six alone in the southern Illinois town of Harrisburg. Twisters were spotted in at least seven states. Take a look at all the damage. One of them carving a 22- mile-long path of destruction through Branson, Missouri.

The twister ripping apart down along the town's famous strip of theaters. They do say that they are going to rebuild in time for tourist season.

And just a little more wind at the back of Mitt Romney heading into Super Tuesday. Romney is taking the Wyoming caucuses, his third win this week. Twenty-six delegates at stake. CNN projects ten for Romney and nine for Rick Santorum.

North Korea is agreeing to suspend all nuclear testing and uranium enrichment in exchange for food. The North Koreans will get 240,000 metric tons of nutritional assistance.

And the crippled cruise ship, Costa Allegra, it just arrived in the port in Seychelles three days after it lost power in the Indian Ocean with more than 1,000 passengers and crew onboard. That ship was towed through pirate infested waters by a little fishing boat.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): And for now, let's go back to Harrisburg, Illinois. That is where Ashleigh Banfield is live. Good morning to you, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Good morning, Zoraida. I'm at the Garden Heights apartments or I think I should probably better say what used to be the Garden Heights apartments here in Harrisburg. There's really nothing left of this small community of a number of smaller homes. This is the worst epicenter of the tornado damage in Harrisburg where six people died. In fact, that's the entire death toll of this town of 9,000. All of them coming from this series of apartments right behind me.

It was an F-4 tornado. And, they don't get a whole lot worse than that. So, when an F-4 comes through, you can expect to see devastation like you see behind me. Also, one of the residents in this area said that they actually saw people being blown out of their windows. If you need pictures that describe the vast power of these winds, when I arrived here, I went straight to an area just adjacent to where I'm standing, and it is a strip mall.

Or let me correct that, it's what used to be a strip mall with a series of stores that were operational but for 24 hours ago. Have a look. This is just about as bad as it gets. This used to be a strip mall. And obviously, you can see from the sign over here that this was a sports store. When you get right down, you can see the evidence of it. I'm actually walking amongst broken glass on carpet.

You can see baseball bats. You can see balls strewn amongst the debris in here. Come by this way, and you can start to recognize a little bit more of which area the store we're in now. Shoe boxes with Nikes strewn all about. Brand new Nikes everywhere all throughout this wreckage. And that's not the only place. There was a cash store here as well. There was a clothing store.

But as we continue to move, you can see that the damage and the debris from the sports store continue throughout this whole strip mall. These are kids hockey helmets and baseballs. And down here, a couple of baseball bats. So, of course, I am in Illinois. But the damage spanned a number of states.

I want to take you to Kentucky, because it was a very rough night for people in Western Kentucky, particularly, the community of Greenville, Kentucky. Residents there reported seeing funnel clouds. A middle school very badly damaged in that area as well. The powerful winds coming with, again, some warning, but for some people, no warning depending on what they had available to them. Listen to Steven Vaught as he talks about how his home was lifted right off of its foundation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVEN VAUGHT, WITNESSED TORNADO: 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 left. And after I rode five times, I mean, I can remember everything about it.

Once it hit the ground on the fifth time, everything just -- I saw daylight and I was sitting up against the stove down there just leaned up with my back against it like I was sitting in a chair. Joy to be here, yes, because I don't know how. I don't how, I mean -- no doubt. The good Lord just didn't call me is all I know. It wasn't my time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: It is just so heartbreaking to hear Mr. Vaught and his account of what happened, and that kind of story is going to be replaying over and over for dozens and dozens and dozens of people through a number of states.

Our Rob Marciano is standing by. Rob, as I was traveling here to Illinois, I was getting the reports in of state by state damage from these systems. I have a tally. I'm not sure if it's complete. Tennessee, Missouri, Kentucky, Illinois. Am I missing any? And is there more still to come?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, there'll be more recharging tomorrow, but the one state where this all started, the first reports that we got, Ashleigh, of damage from a twister was out of Kansas. So, that's where it all began. These are some of the video from Harveyville, Kansas where an EF-2 struck late or early, depending on how you put it, over 24 hours ago, one, two o'clock in the morning.

Little warning with this one. Actually, it did not have a tornado warning out on it. There was a severe thunderstorm warning on it where, regardless, it hit in the middle of the night. And remarkably, six people injured, no fatalities there. All right. Where are the storms today? Where are they right now? But what's left over is down across the southeast.

There are no tornado watches or warnings out as we speak. That's the good news. This system has remarkably weakened. It's in the form of some snow across parts of the northeast, but the backside of it, we may see some storms fire up from St. Louis to Memphis later on today in the form of some damaging winds in large.

We don't expect high probability of tornadoes today, but as we go through tomorrow, things will get a little bit more active as this piece of energy dives down to the south and east. And this storm tomorrow, Ashleigh, looks to be, I don't want to say stronger, but it has more dynamics than yesterday's storm.

But it does -- the track of it shifts a little bit farther to the east. So, a significant swath of real estate will be under the gun again tomorrow as far as severe weather goes and includes Indianapolis, Louisville and in through Nashville. We'll keep you posted on that -- Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: I certainly hope they have their early detection systems in place, because that is something that played out in this community in Harrisburg. They had upwards of 25 minutes warning, but for that, we might have had a significantly higher death toll than six people. If you want to help, there are many ways that you can. And let me tell you, the people here are calling out for help.

You can go to CNN.com/Impact. There are a number of different agencies that are listed on that website that you can reach out and help in any way, financially. You can volunteer as well. And God knows, after a situation like this, volunteers do come out of the wood work from places far flung.

So, don't think that you might live too far away. They do need your help. And that certainly a way that you can do so. CNN.com/Impact -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Great point, Ashleigh. Thank you.

Up next on EARLY START, another win for Mitt Romney captures his third state this week. So, why is Rick Santorum claiming victory now?

It was a big night at the White House. Why the president hosted 200 Iraq war veterans for a dinner there?

And you've seen the picture, a town in ruins. Tornadoes tear apart Harrisburg, Illinois. We're going to talk to the sheriff coming up next. You are watching EARLY START.

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SAMBOLIN: It is 5:41 in the east. Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin in New York. Ashleigh Banfield is live in Illinois, in Harrisburg, Illinois. She's going to join us in a little bit to talk about the storm damage there and the cleanup efforts as well.

Mitt Romney keeps racking up the wins, but he's not gaining a whole lot of ground. Romney and Santorum are preparing for Super Tuesday now. Romney is campaigning in Ohio. Santorum is in Tennessee. Eleven states are up for grabs between now and Tuesday. Wyoming caucuses have been taking place throughout February now and the final results are in.

Romney has 39 percent, Santorum, 32 percent. Twenty-six delegates at stake. CNN projects ten for Romney and nine for Santorum. Romney's win in Michigan on Tuesday, not really feeling like a win now. There were 30 delegates up for grabs, and despite his three-point win, Romney gets 15 delegates, so does Santorum.

Santorum now is calling that a tie. So, let's talk about all of this. Live from Washington, Shira Toeplitz, political reporter with the "Roll Call." Thank you for joining us this morning. So, delegates wise, CNN is -- or projecting a tie in Michigan. Santorum is making more of it. He's actually calling it a win. Let's listen to this and talk about it.

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RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This was a huge win for us. Let's play it the way it is. Don't give Romney all the spin. We went into his backyard. He spent a fortune. The money he had no intention of spending, and we came out of there with the same number of delegates he does.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: But, still, Romney got the popular vote. Does Santorum have a point here?

SHIRA TOEPLITZ, ROLL CALL POLITICAL WRITER: He has small point in that in many ways. This Michigan race was a lot about expectations for Romney. Romney is the first person to tell you that he was born in Michigan. He was raised in the Detroit suburbs. And I think in that sense, people thought he'd be the frontrunner and he would win the state easily. And the fact that he only won by three or four percentage points says that he didn't do as well there as his campaign might have hoped.

But I come from the school that a win is a win, and he got more votes in the popular election. So, I know the delegate count is split after Tuesday night, but you know what, the popular vote says Romney did win it.

SAMBOLIN: A win is a win. How much money do you spend for that win, however, right? We know that the Santorum campaign says that they raised $9 million in February. We've been talking about Romney outspending Santorum himself, and then, you include the Super PAC there.

He even made a direct appeal, right, on his speech on Tuesday night. His campaign is running low on cash. So looking forward, do you think that this is a problem for Romney?

TOEPLITZ: I don't. I don't think money is really a problem for Romney. First of all, let's remember, he's fairly wealthy himself. If he needs to, he can cut a check for himself. I don't think he's done that yet in his campaign. He did it in his 2008 race. Any point, he can open his wallet and write a couple of million off to his campaign.

I don't think money will be an issue. He also has a lot of establishment backings from fairly wealthy Republicans who can continue to feed money into a Super PAC account. I don't think money will be an issue for his. Santorum, though, has to worry a little bit more about fundraising. He doesn't have that kind of wealthy establishment or backing or that rich pocketbook that Romney has.

SAMBOLIN: But Romney does have to worry about the fact that the GOP is not really or the conservatives are not really rallying around him right there. And new reports now that Jeb Bush is still considered as a possible last ditch candidate. He has repeatedly said that he is not interested in running. Forget about whether he will or he will not run, politically, would it be smart for him to jump in right now?

TOEPLITZ: I think it'd be very hard for him to jump in right now, because expectations are really high. He can ask Rick Perry how that went for him when you jump in as this outsider candidate. The expectations are so high. It's hard for candidates to live up to that, especially jumping in in the middle of the campaign.

Now, if you talk to people about a potential Jeb Bush candidacy, what they discuss is, perhaps, maybe he would go in at the convention, and I say there's a very small chance of this actually happening. We get down to a brokered convention in August and Florida at the RNC. Maybe Jeb Bush jumps in then as kind of a consensus candidate.

But again, very small chance of that happening, first of all, because Jeb Bush has said himself he doesn't want to run, and secondly, brokered conventions still an unlikelihood even in this race.

SAMBOLIN: And everybody is saying that. All right. Shira Toeplitz, political reporter with "Roll Call." Thanks for joining us this morning.

TOEPLITZ: Thanks for having me.

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

Still ahead on EARLY START, from the front lines to the east room of the White House, Iraq war veterans break bread with the commander in chief. We're going to talk to them, two of them actually, coming up live. You are watching EARLY START.

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BANFIELD: I'm Ashleigh Banfield in Harrisburg, Illinois and an apartment complex where six people died. Imagine for a moment that you're the sheriff in this town and you need to respond, but you are also within the path of destruction. I'm going to talk to that sheriff live in just a moment and give you a further update as to the destruction right across the southern and eastern part of this country.

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SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. The end of combat operations in Iraq was marked at the White House last night. The president hosted a dinner for 200 war veterans. The event was to give thanks to the over one million troops that served there over the course of the war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As your commander in chief, I could not be more proud of you. As an American, as a husband and father of two daughters, I could not be more grateful for your example. The kind of country we can be, of what we can achieve when we stick together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: And we are joined now by two service members that attended last night, Sgt. Jason Hansman and Maj. Jennifer Parker who is still on active duty. Thank you so much for joining us this morning. I know that you were not allowed to take pictures last night, and we don't have a lot of video of it. So, could you describe the mood for us? I'll begin with you, Jason.

SGT. JASON HANSMAN (RET), U.S. ARMY: You know, it was a very uplifting and positive mood. It was having a great night overall. And, a wonderful sign from the president welcoming the troops from Iraq home.

SAMBOLIN: And Major Parker, how did you hear or how did you feel hearing the remarks from the president and the other speakers? MAJ. JENNIFER PARKER, U.S. ARMY: I was proud to have served in Iraq. And, I felt appreciated as an Iraq war veteran.

SAMBOLIN: Now, we know there were only 200 veterans invited to the dinner. How did you get your invitation?

PARKER: Well, we heard that there was -- they needed some people. So, my husband actually put me on the list. He's also an active duty major. And, they just said, you know, we'll let you know if you were selected. I literally got up on Saturday morning, went out to the mail box and saw that I had an invitation.

SAMBOLIN: That's very cool. How about you, Jason?

HANSMAN: I actually had the invitation of my executive director, Paul Rieckhoff. I worked with Iraq and Afghanistan veterans of America.

SAMBOLIN: All right. There's still about 90,000 troops left in Afghanistan. Many more around the world as you very well know. Was it really difficult to celebrate last night, Maj. Parker?

PARKER: Well, although, we still have friends and family in Afghanistan, I think it was good to go ahead and at least acknowledge those who had served in Iraq. And I think it was even more about acknowledging the service members that we've lost or that were injured as well.

SAMBOLIN: And, Jason, we've talked about the challenges that are faced by recent vets such as unemployment. Over 12 percent of vets from Iraq and Afghanistan are facing unemployment. How are your friends that have served in the military dealing with that?

HANSMAN: You know, I think they're taking it one day at a time for a lot of us, especially the ones that are still unemployed. They're looking for -- they're looking to help -- looking to the VA for help, for DOD for help, and trying to get into a lot of programs to kind of help them transition back from the military. So, it's a slow road.

SAMBOLIN: Well, how do you feel that the president is doing with that?

HANSMAN: You know, I think the president, you know, he's taking the right steps. He signed the vow to hire Heroes Act this last year. And I think, you know, the proper steps are being taken by the administration and by Congress, but it's still a long ways to go to lower that unemployment rate.

SAMBOLIN: And Maj. Parker, I understand that you are still on active duty, but you are in law school as well. Am I correct there?

PARKER: That's right. I'm getting my LLM at George Washington University Law School.

SAMBOLIN: And how do you feel about the challenges that some of the vets are facing as they return after serving our country?

PARKER: I think that all Americans have an obligation to support our veterans once they come home, whether that's hiring them or just, you know, being there for them. I think that that is an important thing that we all should work towards.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Jason Hansman and Major Jennifer Parker, thank you for taking the time this morning to join us.

HANSMAN: Thank you.

PARKER: Thank you for having us.

SAMBOLIN: And ahead on EARLY START, more from Ashleigh on the ground in tornado ravaged Harrisburg, Illinois. Those are the pictures that you're taking a look at there. She's going to join us with so many more details. You are watching EARLY START.

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