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"Loudest Sound I Ever Heard"; Tornado Crushed Harrisburg; Devastating Storm System Kills Two; Wall Street Bonuses Dropping; Interview with Actress Maria Bello; Wyoming Goes To Romney; Costa Allegra Towed To Seychelles

Aired March 1, 2012 - 06:00   ET


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Ashleigh Banfield live in Harrisburg, Illinois, the scene of a deadly twister, a series of twisters that snaked across the Midwest and the south east in this country. The bulk of the death toll coming from right here. I'll have a full report in just a moment.

SAMBOLIN: And winner take some. Mitt Romney wins Michigan, but splits the delegates with Rick Santorum right down the middle. Romney also picking up another state right before Super Tuesday.

And after three days at sea without power, no toilets, no showers, no lights and, on top of that, in pirate infested water. That cruise ship finally arrives in port, and boy, do people have stories to tell there.

We've got stories somewhere else, also. We're going to go right over to Ashleigh. She is live in Harrisburg, Illinois -- Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Zoraida, as you can imagine, we're just 24 hours into this disaster here and so reports can sometimes change of the injured and the wounded. I started off this program by telling you that here at the Garden Heights Apartment was the scene of all the deaths in the community.

All six of them, it turns out there are five of the deaths here and there was another death adjacent to us in another area. But it's a very significant death toll when we're talking about 12 people in total across several states dying. The bulk of them right here in Harrisburg.

It was an F-4 tornado and they don't get a whole lot worse than that. It's the second worst it can be. It cut a heck of a slough through this area. A 100 people, at least, injured in this area and upwards of 200 to 250, if you combine all of the states that were hit by tornadoes.

The tornado that came through here was moving at 60 miles an hour. You cannot outrun a tornado at 60 miles an hour. It actually caught people somewhat by surprise only because of the season. We're in the dead of winter here.

However, the warnings were good, at least 25 minutes of warning so that helped to keep that toll of injured and dead certainly lower that it could have been. There were as many as 300 homes that were damaged in this community or completely destroyed. The homes behind me completely obliterated.

We're seeing toilets. We're seeing bathrooms. We're seeing front doors. We're seeing complete rooms upended and in different yards than the yard where they belong.

The mayor of this town described this as a swath of damage that was three to four football fields wide, an enormous swath of damage. One of the storm chasers named Brandon Culkin said that he, even as a storm chaser was completely stunned by what he witnessed. Have a listen.


BRANDON CULKIN, STORM CHASER: It was probably the loudest sound I ever heard. The popping sound, it was like going over a mountain how your ears popped, but 10 times worse than that. Next thing I know, all the windows shattered in my vehicle and I knew I was getting hit and I was directly in its path and I just kept rolling and rolling.


BANFIELD: I want to bring in a couple of guests that we've been able to encourage to come out to talk to us a little bit about what's happening.

Tammy Pech is with the Red Cross Disaster Public Affairs and also Dan Evans, you're a community resident. You have a gas station in this community that was destroyed. You're not even allowed to get back there. This is a curfew. So tell me what happened to your business?

DAN EVANS, HARRISBURG RESIDENT: Early yesterday morning, it was completely destroyed. There's nothing left. As a business established back in the '50s and it's been there for 84 years and there's nothing left. I worked there for 35 years. Yes, and walked in the same door. So, it's good.

BANFIELD: Right now you're under curfew and you can't go to that business.

EVANS: Not until daylight. We had a crew of 100 people in there, friends, family, customers of ours that showed up to help. We loaded 13 semi loads of material, of product down there. But just to get it under cover before the next storm comes along maybe Friday. It's not bad. Everybody pulling together to help.

BANFIELD: You and your family?

EVANS: Lots of family member, lots of friends. BANFIELD: As you look behind you and you see homes that are in this condition and the number of people who died in this area. You must be feeling at least blessed that you were able to, you know, emerge unscathed from this.

EVANS: Exactly. We know several people here and customers of ours that family died during that. So, yes, it's unreal.

BANFIELD: Everybody knows each other in this town?

EVANS: We do. I live four miles outside of town and we're safe. Our farm's safe and all that, but it is amazing the path it cut right through this town, right through the business district, part of the business district and then the homes, too.

BANFIELD: Are you going to be able to recover anything from your business?

EVANS: You know, we think so, we're strong. We've been here that many years and it's tough. I worked for this company for 35 years. It's tough. We will. We sell a quality product and the service and the people that's been there. We'll come back.

BANFIELD: Amazing in this town.

EVANS: It's a power that we don't know that have done the destruction. We'll bounce back from this.

BANFIELD: Tammy, jump in here and give me a handle. Just let me know about your efforts. You were called into action right away, just after 5:00 in the morning. Give me the low down, the assessment.

TAMMY PECH, RED CROSS: Absolutely. First, our condolences go out to the families who have lost loved ones and have injured family and friends. That's first and foremost on our minds.

We want to make sure that people are safe. So we've set up a shelter here in Harrisburg. We want to make that people have food. That they have emotional support and they have things that they need and their immediate needs are being met.

BANFIELD: And the First Baptist Church is the sort of the nerve center for that area. How many people are there? Give me a scene setter if you could for people who have arrived there for shelter.

PECH: Absolutely. We had about 12 people stay over last night, I actually stayed in there last night and we had people coming in at 2:00 in the morning just looking for somewhere safe. That they have been working all day trying to find family and friends and just decided they need to come to the shelter for some place safe and warm.

BANFIELD: It's hard to get reports that are completely accurate so soon after the disaster, but we are hearing that all people are accounted for. Are you getting the same reports? Are you hearing that the people you have now in shelter are safe and it's not likely that we're going to be hearing any sort of increased death toll from this community.

PECH: I have not heard that so I can't speak on that, but I can just say that the shelters are open for anybody that needs the space and food coming around as soon as the areas are open and we have people working out their businesses and their homes. We'll be there for them.

BANFIELD: How are you doing for money, supplies, volunteers, all those things that are critical in the first hours?

PECH: Absolutely. The very best thing anybody can do to help us support us is give the gift of time, blood or money. Call your local office and volunteer and give the gift of life and you can visit

BANFIELD: Dan, have you been hearing from anybody, you know, amongst your family and friend, your community members who has banded together to say, look, we have to get out there and at least looking to clean up or help those in need.

EVANS: The church has brought food in and besides the Red Cross. We've seen them in place, but the friends and family/. They almost spent a night. The community has come forward with help and lots of people.

BANFIELD: Are you going to be OK?

EVANS: We'll come out of it.

BANFIELD: My thoughts are with you.

EVANS: Thank you.

BANFIELD: I want to remind you that there's a lot of damage and destruction throughout a number of states and we've been talking a lot about Illinois where we are right now. Branson, Missouri, also suffered a very destructive series of storms that destroyed the entertainment community.

Why I say it could have been the entertainment community, there could have been 60,000 plus people there two weeks from now, which is the peak of the tourist season in Branson. So that community while it got hammered and a lot of their theaters and entertainment district were damaged significantly.

Nobody was killed in Branson and there were some injuries, but nothing so significant that at this point we have anyone on a critical list that we know of. So if there is a bright spot in any of this, some of these storms can tear terrible havoc through a community, but there can be survivors, as well.

I want to take you to Rob Marciano right now who is standing by live. Rob, at last count, I think I listed off six states. I'm not sure. It's hard to grasp just how many people were affected by these systems.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Widespread tornado outbreak and even where there weren't tornadoes, Ashleigh, or at least not confirmed tornadoes like in Tennessee, check out some of this video come to us out of Cumberland County where there were two deaths yesterday.

Now they're going to go out and check it out today. These may have been tornadoes, but nobody saw them. Nonetheless, tremendous amount of damage with several homes completely destroyed and more than that, damage in Cumberland County, Tennessee.

We take you now to Newburg, Indiana, the same cell that dropped the EF-4 in Harrisburg, Illinois an hour later dove just south of Evansville, Indiana to the town of Newberg. It was an EF-1 status at this point with half the winds and half the strength of the Harrisburg tornado, but still look at the damage from that.

All right, here's the radar from yesterday morning at this time. We showed it to you live. We were on the air at the time and there's the storm that rolled through Harrisburg EF-4 and it continued to move across the Ohio River, again, just south of Evansville hitting the town of Newburg and then continuing east past that.

All right, the threat for today, at least from this cell, these lines of cells is over. We got a little bit of snow across the northeast. But across the parts of the midsection of the country, may see the storms fire up again later on this afternoon.

The storms now across parts of Alabama and Georgia have thankfully weakened, but there are still some thunder and lightning with that. St. Louis to Memphis that is going to be your threat later on today.

I don't think we'll see much of a tornado threat today, but certainly straight line winds potentially doing some damage. Now tomorrow is whole other ball game. We've got a very potent system that's diving out of the northern Rockies.

And right now the storm's prediction center has put a moderate risk out. When they do that two days in advance, Ashleigh, that's a pretty big deal. So we think we'll see some tornadoes tomorrow afternoon and tomorrow evening across the section.

Maybe shifting a little bit further to the east from where you are, but Illinois, Harrisburg, included, is going to be under this threat tomorrow -- Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: That is hard to believe that these people could withstand anything more, especially with the backdrop behind me. Rob, one of the things that people said here, was while they did have about 25 minutes warning, if they heard the warnings and that helped many get to safe shelter, they were surprised how early this was.

You know, yesterday was just the end of February, that is kind of the dead of winter here. Does that give us any indication going forward into the true tornado season how bad things could end up being? MARCIANO: Not necessarily. You know, we had a horrible, horrible season last year and the dynamics of the winter. We had terribly cold winter last year and this year we had a warm winter. The Gulf of Mexico is warmer so that will increase the level of humidity and the tornado season will be terrible.

That's just one ingredient, but I'll point this out. We typically get 61 tornadoes in the month of February, but look how this spikes as we go through April and May.

So like you said, this is incredibly early to have this kind of outbreak and EF-4s this far north, especially. So it's worrisome, but not an indicator of what we'll see later on this spring -- Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: All right, but, clearly, this community and many surrounding this community are going to have to be on high alert until we get through these next few hours and days. Rob Marciano, thanks so much for that.

I also want to just reiterate, when I was speaking to Dan Evans earlier and he said that this community is coming together and that volunteers are helping, there is also a way that you can help.

It doesn't matter if you're all the way up in Washington State, you can help here, too. Just go to There are a number of different organizations that you can reach out to and help whether it's through, as Tammy said from the Red Cross, blood, money or hours.

You know, there a lot of people in great need here and elsewhere and they could certainly use your help. So again,, just go to the web site and see how yourself can be a part of the recovery effort. Zoraida, back to you.

SAMBOLIN: Great reminder. Thank you very much, Ashleigh.

Still ahead on EARLY START, the crippled "Costa Allegra" cruise ship finally makes it to land. More than 1,000 passengers spent three days without power or showers. We're going to have a live report from Sea Shells.

Another mystery at sea. The FBI is investigating the disappearance of a female passenger from this Celebration cruiseliner. She was reported missing by her boyfriend. You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Wow. Those tornadoes can be so devastating.

It is 16 minutes past the hour. It's time to check the stories that are making news this morning.

At least 12 people have died in that tornado outbreak across the Midwest. You're taking a look at the images there. Six alone in the Southern Illinois Town of Harrisburg. That is where Ashleigh is. Twenty twisters were spotted in at least seven states.

Thousands of Syrian government troops are launching a full-scale assault on a rebel stronghold in the battered City of Homs. This was overnight. A top Syrian official vowing to cleanse the Baba Amr District of all opposition fighters.

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

And classes resume tomorrow for students at Ohio Chardon High School. The school and the community are still reeling from Monday's shooting rampage by alleged gunman T.J. Lane that left three students dead and one remains in the hospital.

The FBI is investigating the disappearance of another 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 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.

Well, it took 78 years and 11 tries, but the U.S. Men's Soccer Team has finally beaten Italy. The Americans scoring a 1-0 victory in an exhibition match last night in Genoa. Congratulations.

Still ahead on Early Start, say it ain't so. Wall Street bonuses take a dive. Christine Romans is "Minding Your Business."

You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. It is 21 minutes past the hour.

Wall Street bonuses dropping to levels not seen since the financial crisis in 2008. Christine Romans is here to put this into context for us. We were having a conversation.


SAMBOLIN: -- feel bad for rich bankers.

ROMANS: No, I don't.

SAMBOLIN: Because I was reading an article yesterday and a guy was complaining that he was making $350,000 a year and he can't afford his lavish lifestyle anymore.

ROMANS: Yes. Well, too bad for him.

SAMBOLIN: Well, that's kind of how I felt, right? ROMANS: Right. I mean, if you can't afford a lavish lifestyle on $350,000 a year, then, I mean, come on, you're living beyond your means. And nobody -- this is the world of Occupy Wall Street, no one can really feel bad about somebody who is banker who makes $350,000 a year and is complaining that the bonus is down $18,000.

But bonuses are down and here's why. Because the banking industry is not making money hand over fist with no interruption anymore. This is the lowest bonuses have been now since the financial crisis quite frankly.

So if you look here, I have a chart for you to show you how bonuses have come. Bonuses now are on average $121,000. I'm crying. $121,000 is a bonus. You can see that's down from the peak before, before the peak of the bubble and then still higher, though, than it was in 2000 and the late 1990s when we were just going crazy and nobody could believe that Wall Street bonuses were above $100,000 each.

Let me explain to you about the bonus structure on Wall Street, Zoraida. Because it's kind of interesting, it's the same on Wall Street, you eat what you kill. And it sounds so cruel, but it's an incentive.

SAMBOLIN: It makes sense.

ROMANS: It makes sense. You don't get paid a bonus and a lot of people's compensation on Wall Street is bonuses. You don't get paid if you don't go out and get the business and do the deal.

And so that incentivizes people to go out and do it. But bonuses are down because they're doing less business. They cut a lot of jobs and so the bonus, the big, huge bonuses of just a few years ago. This looks big, $121,000 looks big.

SAMBOLIN: But it is.

ROMANS: But the average -- with bonus the average salary and banking salary and bonus is like $350,000 on Wall Street. It's a lot of money. A lot of money.

SAMBOLIN: So we were talking earlier and I said you're not going to find a lot of empathy here. But I've got to tell you folks she found some.

ROMANS: I did. Because, look, I've been covering Wall Street --

SAMBOLIN: The trickle down effect.

ROMANS: So New York State relies on this revenue, right? This is important money that comes in to the coffers of New York State, and they're building a budget based on how much money the banks are generating. So that means programs. That means money for all kinds of different things that people who aren't bankers rely on.

Also, having covered Wall Street, I know about -- for example, the guys who drive the car services, right?


ROMANS: I mean, I remember talking to a guy one time who said to me, look, whenever it's a bad year for Wall Street, they're fewer cars. They used to hire fewer cars. I'm trying to get my kids through school, you know, in the Jersey suburbs. And you think, well, these are people making $50,000 a year driving around people who are making $350,000 a year --

SAMBOLIN: That are reliant on that.

ROMANS: -- that are reliant on it. So I'm not -- look, I'm just saying there's a lot of money that is generated by Wall Street that trickles all through the economy and that's something that -- that folks really notices when those bonuses go down.

SAMBOLIN: And charities, as well. It was something you mentioned earlier, something we can't discount because giving is down.

ROMANS: Giving is down. That's right. And that's the other downside of -- of people having less money, people with money having less money is giving away less money. So that's something the charities have noticed, as well, and they've really been encouraging.

You know, charities and religious organizations have been saying, hey, come on, times are tough, but remember we all have to help each other.

SAMBOLIN: I'm feeling emphatic. Thank you.

ROMANS: Well, you don't have to be (ph).

SAMBOLIN: I have. Because everybody, you know, it just affects so many people, right? When you think about this one person, but it's just -- you know, there's a trickle down. Thank you.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: Appreciate it.

All right, ahead on EARLY START, North Korea agreeing to halt all nuclear testing. What the U.S. is giving the North in return.

And we have live coverage of that deadly tornado outbreak. Ashleigh is in Harrisburg, Illinois, where six people died. She's standing right in front of the complex where actually five of those people died.

You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Good morning, Ashleigh. BANFIELD: I'm Ashleigh Banfield, live in Harrisburg, Illinois, where six people were killed in a swath of deadly storms that spanned at least five states. We'll have a whole lot more information as to what happened here and directly behind me in just a moment.

SAMBOLIN: All right. And good morning to you, as well, I'm Zoraida Sambolin in New York. We'll head back to the scene of the devastating Midwest tornadoes in just a few moments.

But first, let's take a quick check of all the stories that are making news this morning.

At least 12 people have died in that tornado outbreak across the Midwest. Six alone where Ashleigh is, the Southern Illinois Town of Harrisburg. Twisters were spotted in at least seven states. One of them carving a 22-mile-long path of destruction. That was through Branson, Missouri.

Syrian forces reportedly launching an all-out offensive on the City of Homs. A top government official vowing to, quote, "cleanse the Baba Amr District of all opposition fighters." Those rebels say water, food and communication have been cut off in some of the areas.

And chalk up another win for Mitt Romney. The Wyoming caucuses have been going on throughout February and the totals are now in with Romney defeating Rick Santorum, 39 percent to 32 percent. He picks up 10 more delegates.

And North Korea has agreed to stop all nuclear testing in uranium enrichment in exchange for food. The North Koreans will get 240,000 metric tons of nutritional assistance from the United States in return for that.

And a federal judge siding with the tobacco industry, rejecting a government mandate requiring graphic images and words on tobacco products warning of smoking dangers, saying those labeling rules amounted to a violation of free speech.

And it is the end of a nightmare at sea. The crippled Costa Allegra cruise ship finally reaching land in the Seychelles after losing power on Monday. It was towed by a French fishing boat with over 1,000 passengers onboard there.

We're going to talk to them live -- talk to a reporter there live shortly.

And for now, let's send back to Harrisburg, Illinois. Ashleigh is standing by there with more details for us.

Good morning, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Hi, Zoraida.

I'm standing with Sheriff Keith Brown who is the sheriff of Saline County here.

And we are right in the heart of the worst of the damage in your county. I understand you actually just live a half mile from here, sir.

SHERIFF KEITH BROWN, SALINE COUNTY, ILLINOIS: Yes, I live on the west side of town where the tornado started through town and this is about halfway through town.

BANFIELD: So, at what point did you sort of become -- emerge from being a survivor to becoming sheriff who needs to cope with what we're looking at now behind us.

BROWN: Well, very lucky for my family and for my area right at the West Edge, we didn't get very much damage at all. But we moved into this area just after 5:00. The tornado came in with the first 911 reports just before 5:00 and we were probably in this area just a few minutes later. We had to work our way in with the large number of trees and --

BANFIELD: A lot of gas lines that were open, as well, power lines that were live down on the ground?

BROWN: Yes. Just to our east of this location there were quite a few gas lines and risers that had been knocked down by the debris and the buildings coming of and we had to deal with a number of different problems when we got into this area, but this is the area where five of the six that perished here in our community.

BANFIELD: I heard just such a harrowing tale of Mary Osmond (ph), whose son, I believe it was Darryl (ph), had come to rescue her, help her. This was her house somewhere in this disaster area.

BROWN: I believe it's just on the other side of us, yes.

BANFIELD: It's from the other side of us, and that he got here and she was alive. He got here and she was conscious, but she did not survive the ensuing hours. Is there anything more to that story? Is that all accurate?

BROWN: I believe that to be accurate. There were a number of families, in fact, just right here just to our east or to the west of us. There were six apartments that were destroyed and that's what you see a lot of the debris behind us.

And most of those that perished were behind us. But, yes, there was a man and wife that passed, as well as a young lady that passed and I say there were five that were killed right here in this area.

BANFIELD: Is it correct, four men, two women in total for this community?

BROWN: I believe it was four women and two men.

BANFIELD: Four women, two men?


BANFIELD: At this point, everyone is accounted for, correct?

BROWN: We do not have a list of missing at this point. All are accounted for. However, we have a number of individuals who were flown to trauma centers in the area and we haven't had a report back on anybody on that --

BANFIELD: Are they OK? Anyone in critical?

BROWN: There were some people that I would say are exceptionally serious.

BANFIELD: OK. Is your family OK, sir?

BROWN: My family is fine. Our hearts go out and our prayers go out to the families that were, you know, killed here, and there were so many that were injured. We have probably at least 100 that were injured, of course, that ranges from cuts with glass, stepping on a nail to --

BANFIELD: Severe trauma.

BROWN: -- severe trauma. We had several with broken bones and potentially internal injuries from being thrown about from the tornado.

BANFIELD: Sheriff Brown, I certainly hope you can get through this and certainly emerge on the other end. Better, stronger people and our hearts go out to you and your community here, as well.

BROWN: Well, the community at large has come together to work with us, as well as the state. We've talked to a lot of the federal folks and they're coming in today to look at the area. We certainly are hoping that they'll be able to give us a hand in getting the community back where it needs to be.

BANFIELD: And I wish you the best of luck and I know you haven't slept much. Thank you for being here.

BROWN: It's been a short night.

BANFIELD: Appreciate it. Thank you, sir.

BROWN: Thank you.

BANFIELD: Sheriff Keith Brown joining us live in Harrisburg, Illinois.

Rob Marciano is standing by.

Harrisburg obviously is the worst hit, but, my goodness, Rob, at last count five states dealing with major tornado damage or straight line winds or some kind of horrible storm damage.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: And the state just to your south, in Kentucky, Ashleigh, they got hit hard. There were several tornadoes around this time yesterday that were rolling across that state just south of the Ohio River.

This is video out of Greenville, Kentucky. One of the spots where an EF-2 tornado hit this area, destroying a number of homes and, obviously, knocking out power. But this was one of four that rolled across the state. Another one in Elizabethtown, just north and east, about 80 miles. It's similar damage causing injuries and fatalities, as well.

So, several states this tornado outbreak in the month of February, which is hard enough to believe. We are going to recharge the atmosphere, not just today, but especially tomorrow as this storm exits, which, by the way, bringing snow to the Northeast and this one drops in.

Meantime, a threat a day out, across parts of the South and East. But the good news with this round of storms, this is from the same storm that dropped the tornados and the severe weather across the midsection yesterday. That's weakening.

But later on this afternoon, from St. Louis to Memphis, probably severe weather and not looking at a widespread outbreak today. We're not looking at a tremendous threat for tornadoes, but straight line winds potentially doing some damage there.

But tomorrow, when that chunk of energy comes out of the Rockies, it was going to recharge the atmosphere, more moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and in similar spots tomorrow would be under the gun as what we saw yesterday maybe shifting things a little bit east. The track is a little further to the east.

But from Indianapolis, Louisville, Nashville and even back through southern Illinois, Ashleigh, we're looking for the threat for seeing more in the way of tornadoes tomorrow. So, definitely a worrisome graphic. Back to you.

BANFIELD: Well, I tell you what, Rob? You and I talked, I think it was only about 25, 35 minutes ago, but where this all emanated from and it was Kansas.

It's hard to even think about 24 hours ago being on the air and talking about Harveyville. That's where some of the first reports of these tornadoes were coming out. We got some updated reports from Harveyville, that's about southwest of Topeka, Kansas, if you're trying to get an image of where it is.

But the tornado that touched down there in Harveyville was an F- 2 tornado. The tornado here where I am, it was an F-4. But an F-2, you don't want to be near that either. Let me tell you, 150 yards wide, the swath of damage to Harveyville. The wind speeds were topping out at 130 miles an hour there, causing a great deal of damage and, also, one person we're told is in critical condition as a result of that storm system moving there.

One of the survivors, who actually weathered what is often called the sound of a freight train coming close is Gemma Collins, and describes it this way.


GEMMA COLLINS, SURVIVOR: Honestly, it sounded like a train was coming through town and we don't have a train here. As soon as it hit the ground, my ears felt like, you know when it's in an airplane and it just pops, that's all it did. My daughter was by the window and she said, mama, look, my chairs were spinning outside the window.

All that stuff that is over here was on top of me, I was inside that bathtub. I couldn't move. I don't know, it was just really rough.

REPORTER: What was going through your mind?

COLLINS: I swore we were going to die. All I could do was pray.


BANFIELD: It's always difficult to hear those survivor accounts. I want to show you one thing, Zoraida. Just walk with me if you will. Among some of the damage I just spotted 30 seconds ago, there's like a garden stone here on the front and I put it together to read what was on it.

Let me see if I can lift it up for you because it is quite telling as I read the words inscribed. "Our hearts still with sadness and our tears still flow. What it's meant to lose you, you can never know."

I absolutely can't believe I found this at the site where five people just died within the last 24 hours. And if anybody is watching and you want to help out, there's certainly a number of ways you can. You can always go to the Red Cross Web site there.

You can also go to -- We have a number of organizations that are all collated right into that particular Web site and you can choose what you want to do as the Red Cross says, blood, money or your hours, your work. Blood, sweat and tears, so to speak.

But certainly the people here could use the help, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Would you imagine that folks want to go through and sift through all the remains there, trying to find things like what you found. Are they going to be allowed back in?

BANFIELD: No way. No, there's a curfew in place. The only way we're here is through the permission and authority of the sheriff. The people who survived this can't even come back to their houses. THe people who lost their loved ones can't come back.

I don't know how long that is going to be. Usually it takes a while to get remains because that is critical in these circumstances, but also the danger of the downed power lines and gas leaks, which have been a problem here.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you very much, Ashleigh. We'll check back in with you.

And still ahead on EARLY START, stranded at sea for days with no power, no toilets, and no real food. Imagine that. And this guy is actually smiling. Passengers on Costa Allegra are back on land, sharing cruise ship horror stories now.

And a little bit later, we're going to talk with actress Maria Bello about her work on behalf of women in places like Haiti.

You are watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: It is 42 minutes past the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START.

You know actress Maria Bello for her many movie roles. And most recently from her starring turn as a New York City detective in an NBC drama "Prime Suspect."

Maria Bello's passion, though, extends far beyond the entertainment world. In fact, she has devoted or she is devoted to helping women in some of the poorest parts of the world lift themselves and their families out of poverty.

She's driven by disturbing statistics like this. One in three women worldwide are victims of violence, such as rape in their lifetime. She is in Washington today at an event celebrating International Women's Day.

Maria Bello joins us now.

Thank you for taking the time. We appreciate it.

MARIA BELLO, ACTRESS: Thank you. I'm so happy to be here.

SAMBOLIN: Can you tell me a little bit about the event in Washington?

BELLO: Sure, it's the International Women's Day conference on Capitol Hill that this extraordinary group that I work with, Women Thrive Worldwide, has put together and we're addressing the issue this year of violence against women.

As you said before, one in three women will be victims of gender-based violence in their lifetime.

SAMBOLIN: And what motivated you to focus on women's issue. You have a full life and a full career.

BELLO: I do. And a 10-year-old to boot, who is going to be 11 on Monday.

SAMBOLIN: Congratulations.

BELLO: Thank you. I studied international women's rights at university. So, I have been doing it for the last 26 years. I started working in Haiti about four years ago.

And right after the earthquake, I started my own organization called We Advance as a direct result of the earthquake, realizing that my women friends on the ground who were local women's organizations who were doing extraordinary things were not getting any of the big funding. The billions of dollars that were coming in after the earthquake to Haiti was not going down to the local level, to the women who were really doing the work.

SAMBOLIN: Tell us about the women in Haiti, and how they're suffering and how they're struggling.

BELLO: I would like to tell how you how they're suffering and struggling. I mean, there's certainly still 500,000 people in IDP camps. The government, the new government, Martelly's government is doing a fantastic job, I think, clearing them out.

But the women are really vulnerable. Thirty percent say they have been victims of gender-based violence in the camps, and the main thing that they need is a house because a lot can be cured with a door and a lock.

But there's also stories of hope. We just had the last -- this is the last day today of our International Women's Conference in Haiti.

Vital Voices and Bank of America put together a conference. We have 40 women from the provinces come together. We had women from all over the world, including myself and Florence Chenoweth from Liberia and women from Cambodia and the United States gathering together, to put together an integrated women's platform that we're bringing to President Martelly this evening.

So, it's very exciting. I really believe in Haitian women, know what Haitian women need, and local solutions to Haitian problems.

SAMBOLIN: And, specifically, I was reading that you say that giving the money to Haitian women is the smart thing to do, why?

BELLO: That's right. People say, oh, to think about women and girls is important. It's not important, it's just smart. It's statistically proven that when women hold the purse strings in a family, more money goes to their children's health and education. The more women that are in elected positions, the more Democratic the country is.

So, it's just the smart thing to do. And to work towards women's economic opportunity in Haiti right now to work towards their full political participation, to work towards a cultural shift that allows women's voice to be heard and reconstruction is very important. And also to push our government to take into account women's voices in all of their federal funding and assistance. SAMBOLIN: And doing what you're doing right now, raising the awareness. I can't let you go without asking what projects you're working on.

BELLO: I'm happy to say that this summer, starting in May, we're starting "Grown-ups 2." If you saw "Grown-ups" 1 with Adam Sandler and Chris Rock and Kevin James and Salma Hayek, it was one of the funniest movies that I've ever seen or ever done. And so, we're doing "Grown-ups 2," and so, it should be a hoot of a summer on Cape Cod.

SAMBOLIN: All right. We are really looking forward to that. Maria Bello, actress and activist, good luck to you, and thanks for being with us today.

BELLO: Thank you so much.

It is 46 minutes past the hour. Time to check stories that are making news this morning.


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. Five of them actually in the building that Ashleigh has been standing in front of all morning. Twenty twisters were spotted in at least seven states. Devastating images there.

And the numbers are in from the Wyoming caucuses, and Mitt Romney comes out on top. The former Massachusetts governor defeating Rick Santorum by seven points while picking up ten more delegates to Santorum's nine.

And it is the end of a nightmare at sea. The crippled "Costa Allegra" cruise ship finally reaching land in the Seychelles after losing power on Monday. It was towed by a French fishing boat with over 1,000 passengers aboard. We are finally going to hear from those passengers.


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): And Soledad O'Brien is going to join us with a look at what is ahead on "STARTING POINT." Good morning to you, Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN HOST: Hey, Zoraida, good morning to you. On "Starting Point, we're going to pick up where Ashleigh was reporting from this morning. This is the apartment complex where five people died when the tornado rolled through. It came this direction traveling roughly a 170 miles an hour.

And as you can see from the damage here, it's really what caused the number of deaths in Harrisburg. A terrible story to tell you about. We're going to update you on those personal, individual stories of what happened to the victims here in this apartment complex. We'll also tell you what happened across the United States as well as the storms ripped through from Kansas to Kentucky into Tennessee.

We'll talk about all that as "Starting Point" gets under way in roughly ten minutes or so. We'll see you then, Zoraida. Thanks.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

SAMBOLIN: We have breaking news from Afghanistan. CNN learning two soldiers killed overnight were Americans. Let's go right to CNN's Nick Paton Walsh. He is live in Kabul. Nick, what can you tell us?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, ISAF confirmed at this point that two of their personnel were shot dead on the ground of base in Southern Afghanistan.

They say that one man they believed to be an Afghan soldier and another man, a civilian, who could well have been a teacher, perhaps, teaching English to Afghan soldiers on that base, opened fire killing these two ISAF personnel and then shot dead by the other soldiers on the base.

We understand one Afghan official, though, that these soldiers were Americans working in an area called Zarei (ph) in Kandahar, and that apparently, this teacher, as far as they're aware, bear in mind, this information is always very preliminary and it can change over time. As far as they're aware, this particular teacher was, in fact, some sort of (INAUDIBLE) by the Taliban who'd been there for approximately a year at this point.

The motivation is unclear, but all of this feeds into this last week's worth of similar incidents. Two soldiers shot dead on a base in the east. About a week ago from today, two senior American officers shot dead in the securest part of the interior ministry in Kabul on Saturday. Six dead Americans in the past week all from men, apparently, in Afghan army uniform turning their weapons upon them.

The only actual casualties, very sadly, in the past week ISAF has sustained have been from instance like this, and it's really going to play into that whole feeling of trust that Afghan soldiers have with the Americans they work alongside. Their cooperation so vital so American troops can start to go home.

SAMBOLIN: And nick, is this being tied at all to the Koran burning and the tension that is still existing because of that?

WALSH: I think it never to believe there will be some people drawing connections, although there's no statement to that effect from anybody. In fact, while ISAF won't comment on their own going investigation, the Afghan official we spoke to said this was somebody who's being put in that role by the Taliban a year ago.

So, perhaps, they chose to strike because of this Afghan wave of anger at the Koran burnings, but it doesn't appear this as an operation put into effect because of that instant. But, still, it's going to feed into that wider sense of anger and distrust growing in Afghanistan.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Nick Paton Walsh live for us in Kabul, thank you very much.

And still ahead on EARLY START, we have live continuing coverage of the tornado destruction in America's heartland. The threat is not over yet, adding insult to injury. There are more storms headed that way. You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. Let's go back to Ashleigh Banfield. She is live in Harrisburg, Illinois -- Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Zoraida, this is the scene where six people died in this community. Five of them right here in the apartments behind me. And I just want to draw your attention as the sun begins to come up in this town, you would not know this was a house, but for that car parked in the garage and just a few remnants of light, a toilet ripped right off of its plumbing and thrown on to the front lawn here.

Move left, and you can see the porch lights, the front door just hanging on its hinges barely recognizable. The mess that becomes the first and second floor just conflated between the two, a mattress on the front lawn, and one of the most dangerous things when it comes to a tornado, these unbearable shards that become projectile that may have actually had an effect and killed many of the people who lost their lives across this country.

Twelve people dead after the series of storms and at least five states, and, the story is not even over yet. There is so much more that may actually develop with the storm systems as we move ahead, but, safe to say for the Osmond (ph) family who lost their matriarch here, there is a lot of healing still left to do in this community.

And this is where I also join my colleague, Soledad O'Brien, who's joining me now live to carry on the story as it continues to develop.

O'BRIEN: It's amazing, the damage. I mean, no matter how many tornadoes you cover, you really never get used to the damage. Ashleigh, thank you very much.