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Tornadoes Hit Texas; Interview With Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus

Aired April 3, 2012 - 18:00   ET


JESSICA YELLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us. I'm Jessica Yellin. John King is off.

We continue now with CNN's coverage of the breaking news in Texas. Tornadoes rip through the Dallas/Fort Worth metro area this afternoon, producing incredible scenes of destruction. We watched tractor trailers lifting high in the air, spinning around, and then smashing to the ground. Homes were hit, too. We have seen roofs peeled off, power lines down, and trees splintered and uprooted. The damage is widespread.

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez tells CNN her officers were going house to house, checking for casualties until warnings came that more severe storms were on the way. The emergency lasted for hours.

This call came into CNN just over two hours ago.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you go north, there's warnings all over the place. It's raining. People are scrambling to try to get out of the offices just to get home, and now it's caused a big problem, a big problem on the streets. There are just sirens going on. Even if you're not even in the tornado warning places. You don't know which way to go. You really can't decide if you want to make a run for it home or just to stay where you are.


YELLIN: CNN's Ed Lavandera is on the phone right now from Lancaster.

Ed, what are you seeing where you are right now?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jessica, we have made our way into (AUDIO GAP) hard by the storm that rushed through (AUDIO GAP) just a few hours ago, a neighborhood in Lancaster, from what we have been able to see, and it's very difficult to navigate with all the emergency vehicles and residents trying to figure out what to do next.

But we have seen several dozen homes that have been heavily hit and destroyed by the storm, several with roofs completely ripped off. Just spoke with one woman just a little while ago. Her name is Gwen Dabbs (ph). She didn't have time to make it into an interior room in her house, Jessica. She was in her front bedroom, a big window that faced outside. All of a sudden, she said she heard the storm and tornado approaching and everywhere swirling around outside and she could only duck into the corner of the room and grab some blankets and pull them over herself as the windows erupted and shattered inside the room.

She told me, she goes, I thought I was about to die. She covered herself up, and incredibly, there are no cuts. She made it out completely unhurt, before everything she knew, everything the storm had blown through. But I'm standing here in front of her house as we speak right now, and all of the windows are out, the shingles ripped apart. There's actually several two-by-fours that were launched into homes, they're just sticking out of the brick homes as if they were toothpicks.

Incredible scenes that we're seeing in the isolated areas where the storm did the heaviest damage, and all of this covers a widespread area, pockets of severe disaster that we have found. We're on the southern edge of where all of this happened, Jessica ,here in Lancaster.

YELLIN: Ed, unbelievable story. We're glad you're safe, and will continue reporting for us as a developments warrant, Ed Lavandera from Lancaster, where the storm has done severe damage.

The main line of the storms now is east of Dallas. People in the metro area have been able to get outside and survey the damage to the neighborhoods, and they talk about what it was like when the tornado went through.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It felt like somebody pelting the building with large objects. And I couldn't tell what was going on. I was in the bathroom in the bathtub with the bathroom door closed, so I really had no -- there was nothing I could do. It was too late to go anywhere safer than where I was. So it was not the best afternoon.


YELLIN: Not the best afternoon, I'm sure.


YELLIN: Joining us now on the phone is Jonathan Cook, who saw two tornadoes, as I understand, touch down.

Jonathan, thank you for being with us. I understand you're safe now, but tell us, if you would, what you saw.

JONATHAN COOK, TORNADO SURVIVOR: Yes, this morning, I was in the bank, caught off guard a little bit. I had no warning, and saw lightning strike about 50 yards across the street from the bank, and immediately after got some thunder, and then lightning struck again.

Thunder came, and I said, we need to look out the window and see what's going on. We looked out the window and about that time, hail just started coming down just a little bit bigger than a nickel. So I ran out of the bank, hopped in my truck, and ran across the street to the RaceTrac gas station where a lot of people were taking cover under the gas pumps there, and about that time, a guy pulled up with the Weather Service truck, he opened his door, and he said, listen to the Weather Service. We got to take cover now.

And a girl said, look up. And she pointed with two fingers and there were two tornadoes that touched down about an eighth of a mile ahead of us. And then whenever that happened, sirens went off and the guy came over the city sirens and he said take shelter (INAUDIBLE) county, tornado warning, confirmed tornadoes on the ground.

And then the girl pointed behind us and she said, look, there's a third one. And behind us a third one was swirling, but we never saw it touch down.

YELLIN: Where did you go to seek cover?

COOK: We were just under the gas pump awning there, hoping that it didn't come our way. We had a good visual of it. But we really had nowhere to go. So it all happened so fast. We just had to run in the gas station.

YELLIN: Can you describe what it sounded like, what it looked like to you?

COOK: Well, it got really calm. It was raining and hailing, like I said, and it busted the guy's Tahoe windshield out next to me, and then all of a sudden, the rain and hail ceased.

And we were like, what is going on? And right whenever the rain and hail stopped, that's when we saw the tornadoes touch down. And it got really windy and loud, and after everything cleared, I got in my truck and was starting to rush home. And I only got about an eighth of a mile up the road before the police had everything blocked off on I-35, because apparently there were some overturned vehicles on I-35 where it had touched down.

And I couldn't even get home my normal route. They had the highway closed off there, down to one lane.

YELLIN: You must have been terrified. Was there some point where you feared for your life?

COOK: I was very scared. I was very scared. I'm not going to act like I wasn't.

Whenever the weather guy pulled up with the Weather Channel on his radio blaring, he had some sort of two-way radio telling exactly where the storm was. He said it's only about an eighth of a mile from us, and those were apparently the first two tornadoes that touched down here today. They went on through Arlington, and just it's devastating to see the kind of damage that those tornadoes have done today to a lot of people who were at work, luckily, and didn't get hurt. I haven't heard any injuries, but I don't remember -- I have lived here my entire life, and I don't remember ever seeing any kind of tornadic activity like we have had today, just one right after another.

YELLIN: On your drive home, did you see damage? Can you describe anything that you have seen along the way?

COOK: Yes, on my drive home, there were large trees, large tree limb, a lot of leaves scattered across the highway, and there were tree limbs on the highway.

And, you know, just right off the highway, on the access road, I saw many roofs that had been taken off homes. There was some tin sheet metal on the highway on the shoulders, that I guess had blown from older buildings that had been built, and pieces of their roof flying off, and even on my way home, I saw one more mist cloud funnel that was forming right off the highway. That's when the rain really picked up again. The second storm came through. And I took shelter underneath an overpass.

YELLIN: Live pictures from Dallas affiliate WFAA of some of the damage that the tornadoes wreaked in the neighborhood, just remarkable images there.

And as we continue to cover this story, there are tractor trailers that weigh thousands of pounds lifted up and splintered by the storm. We will tell you how this truck depot is taking stock of their damage.

And at the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, passengers had to be moved to safety. Tonight, hundreds of flights are canceled or delayed. We're keeping an eye on all of this.


YELLIN: We want to get back to the tornadoes in Texas. Now you're looking at live pictures from our affiliate WFAA, which show just tremendous damage.

As a result of these storms, 400 flights at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport have been canceled, and at one point, all of the passengers inside the airport had to be moved to safety.

Let's bring in our aviation and regulation correspondent Lizzie O'Leary.

Lizzie, anyone who has flown will know that this means a ripple effect to fliers all over the country, doesn't it?

LIZZIE O'LEARY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It does. And in large part, that's because this is such a big airport, Dallas/Fort Worth.

You also have Love Field there as well. But we're talking about an airport that is essentially a hub for American Airlines. Hundreds of flights canceled, but generally, 150,000 passengers a day move through Dallas/Fort Worth. When you have cancellations like this, it causes a ripple effect.

You also have planes that need to be inspected for hail damage. American said they had to inspect about 68 planes. That means they're looking at all different aspects of them. Remember there was a storm last summer that caused significant hail damage in Denver where you had Frontier planes that had damage on the wings, on the wing flaps.

These are the kinds of things that if hail comes in contact with the airplanes, they need to take them offline and they need to inspect them before they get back up in the air.

YELLIN: That makes sense. And it's a good thing.

What does the airline or airports do with the actual passengers who were inside the building when a tornado hits?

O'LEARY: We think about this when we saw the tornadoes that hit the Saint Louis Airport. A lot of those hit without warning.

What they told us is that they essentially shelter passengers in place. A lot of that means you go to the place with the thickest walls. That's any part away from glass, and that's bathrooms, that's stores. In DFW, that means some of the lower level stuff. You want to get people into basically the most securely constructed area that is possible. It makes sense, but that's what you have to do with hundreds of people.

YELLIN: And we will all feel the impact of this one way or another, it sounds like.

O'LEARY: Absolutely.

YELLIN: Lizzie, thanks so much.

We will continue watching the Texas storms and bring you the latest pictures and reports of damage from there.

Plus, it's also primary night in Maryland, D.C., and Wisconsin, and the Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus, says -- quote -- "Serious bragging rights are on the line." We're talking to him next.


YELLIN: It is a big day in presidential politics.

Voters in Maryland and the District of Columbia have less than two hours to cast votes in today's presidential primaries. In Wisconsin, the polls are open until 9:00 Eastern.

President Obama picked this primary day to ratchet up his attacks on the Republicans. But he connected one Republican in particular, Mitt Romney, by name with congressional Republicans' latest budget plan. It's a budget that the president called radical, social Darwinism, and a Trojan horse designed to gut spending on education, research, and the middle class. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of my potential opponents, Governor Romney, has said that he hoped a similar version of this plan from last year would be introduced as a bill on day one of his presidency. He said that he's very supportive of this new budget. And he even called it "marvelous," which is a word you don't often hear when it comes to describing a budget.


YELLIN: Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is here.

Gloria, it's the first time the president has mentioned Mitt Romney by name.


And it means game on, Jessica, and it's also no surprise that what he's doing is he's trying to tie him to Paul Ryan, who is the author of a very controversial plan that passed in the House of Representatives, which essentially restructures Medicare.

And what strikes me about all of this because Republicans responded immediately, calling the president outrageous, what strikes me about this is that each side in this presidential campaign really thinks it can win by drawing bright neon lines in the sand.

You know, Republicans are making a calculation they should go to their right. Democrats, go to their left.

YELLIN: The president also said that essentially President Ronald Reagan couldn't win in this GOP primary because he said it's essentially so far to the right. Is that a winning message for him?

BORGER: Well, look, I think what the president was doing was kind of ribbing Republicans, saying, look, in this primary season, I heard all of you compete for the mantle of Ronald Reagan. All of you wanted to be Ronald Reagan redux.

And guess what? This was a president, a Republican president who decided he needed to compromise sometimes and raise taxes, and not one of you could win in any of your primaries if you sounded at all like Ronald Reagan.

I think we will hear that in the general election as well, Jess.

YELLIN: All right, Gloria Borger, thanks so much. We will be talking to you. I know you will be on a lot tonight, so we will hear more from you later.

BORGER: There's an election.


And somebody who will have a very different opinion from President Obama is Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. He calls the race in his home state of Wisconsin tonight pivotal in determining the GOP presidential nominee.

Reince Priebus joins me now.

Chairman, thanks for being with us.




Today, Governor Romney seemed concerned that the drawn-out primary battle with Rick Santorum could mean Republicans lose this election. He gave an example from recent history. Listen to this.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think going back to the Clinton years, you have to remember it was Ross Perot that allowed Bill Clinton to win. And the right thing for us, I think, is to get a nominee as soon as we can, and be able to focus on Barack Obama.


YELLIN: So, looking ahead to tonight, do you think Rick Santorum in the race is a spoiler?

PRIEBUS: No, I actually think we have had a lot of benefits from just a little bit longer primary. Let's not overdramatize it here. We're in the beginning of April and we're talking about a big night tonight and potentially a few more contests in April.

So I think we have taken this narrative further than it really needs to go. I think there's a lot of reasons for having an extended primary. I think super PACs play a role. Certainly, I think people didn't want to campaign over Christmas.

But, at the end of the day, we have got a Republican primary process that has allowed us to accumulate more volunteers, more people going to caucuses, which is going to help us defeat Barack Obama in November.

YELLIN: At the same time, you told "The Washington Post"'s Dan Balz that whoever wins in Wisconsin, that's tonight, is going to have some really serious bragging rights and the vote tonight is pivotal.

So that's the closest I have heard you come to playing ref in the primary. If Santorum loses Wisconsin tonight, should he drop out?

PRIEBUS: Well, I'm not going to go that far, Jessica, but, obviously, who knows what is going to happen tonight. And I really don't want to influence the vote in Wisconsin. Here is what I think. I think Wisconsin has been in the crosshairs here for many years, especially over the last year. I think the people there are very sophisticated politically. They're very in tune with voting. I think you're going to see turnout very high today in Wisconsin.

And, ultimately, I think the winner out of this contest because it has been so hyped up in the media, which it should be, I think that person is going to have some serious bragging rights, as I told "The Washington Post," and I believe that. And we will see the fallout of tonight tomorrow, and I will leave it at that, as opposed to me predicting what might happen.

YELLIN: That's very leading.

The fallout, we will follow that. You're very close with Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, who hasn't closed the door on being a potential vice presidential pick. Do you think he would make a good V.P.?

PRIEBUS: Well, of course. But I'm going to leave that up to the nominee.

I think, as opposed to the president's pageantry in speeches, I think Paul Ryan is a guy who actually is somebody of his word that follows through on promises, as opposed to giving speeches that are -- I think, in my mind, the president's speeches are becoming somewhat of like a Saturday night skit where you make fun of the guy that actually proposes something serious, when the person giving the speech, the president, hasn't proposed anything serious that any Democrat actually would even vote for themselves in I don't know how many years.

So hard to make fun of a guy that proposes a budget to fix our problems when you didn't propose a thing and you're supposed to be the president of the United States.

YELLIN: Well, they would take issue with that. They have put out a budget. They have put out a number of jobs bills.

PRIEBUS: Yes, and no Democrat voted for it.

YELLIN: Well, they say what was on the floor was a gimmick. But we can disagree with that forever.


PRIEBUS: They didn't vote for it because it was a joke.

YELLIN: The president went directly after Mitt Romney and the Republican economic principles for the first time. We will play for you some of what the president said.


OBAMA: This congressional Republican budget is something different altogether. It is a Trojan horse disguised as deficit reduction plans. It is really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country. It is thinly veiled social Darwinism.


YELLIN: Middle-class voters do seem to be wary of Mitt Romney to date. That's based on polling, not just opinion.

Latest polling shows 34 percent of middle-class voters say Mitt Romney cares most about them. Among those who make less than $50,000 per year, only 36 percent favor Romney, compared to 57 percent who favor President Obama.

Is that a bad sign if he becomes your general election nominee?

PRIEBUS: No, not at all, because I think that what you're going to the find is that the entire party will unify behind the nominee.

I think messaging is much different when it's one on one. And I think, look, you look at most polling, it shows that over 55 percent to 70 percent of the American people feel this country is on the wrong track. And I don't think that most people in this country want to replace the American dream with a European nightmare, which is what this president has put in place, if he's put anything in place.

Second to that, the president has basically been a person of inaction and a lot of speeches. And so I think people can see through the veneer and the pomp and circumstance, and I think they want real and genuine in the White House, and I think we're going to give it to them.

YELLIN: Finally, I got to ask you, Sarah Palin was on "The Today Show" today. She refused to give a ringing endorsement to Mitt Romney. What are your thoughts on her comments this morning?

PRIEBUS: I wouldn't know, Jessica. I didn't watch it. And so I couldn't really comment on what she said, the tone of it or context.

So we're going to move forward with the work that we need to do to replace this president and help save this country.

YELLIN: OK, all right. We will look for what you mean when we will see the fallout tomorrow of tonight -- who wins tonight.

PRIEBUS: You got it, Jessica. You bet.

YELLIN: Thanks so much, Reince. Appreciate it.

Up next, we will have the latest information on the damage from those Texas tornadoes, including an update on what happened in these dramatic pictures from a truck parking lot.


YELLIN: I'm Jessica Yellin. This half hour of JOHN KING USA, we continue following the breaking news out of Texas. Devastating tornadoes in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. Look at the power of the winds as one of the tornadoes tosses tractor trailers in the air. Now that the storms are east of Dallas, we're getting pictures of the widespread damage to homes and other structures. People are telling harrowing stories.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And there was debris flying through the air. So I bolted upstairs. I got the dogs. We all ran into the inner most part of the house, shut the bathroom door, and that's when I heard winds gusting through, a window break, and loud, screeching sirens.


YELLIN: CNN's Ed Lavandera is in Lancaster. That's a community directly south of Dallas and in one of the hardest hit areas. You've seen a lot today. What are you seeing there now?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jessica, we're in one of the harder hit neighborhoods here in the city of Lancaster, south of Dallas. We're told by city officials here that some 300 buildings were damaged.

And this is one of the homes here in this neighborhood that we're at, just a real poignant scene here just moments ago. A girl coming home from school. She was no older than 12 years old. Came up just a little while ago and saw that for the first time and broke down into tears.

We've also seen amazing scenes like this. Just look at that 2 x 4 impaled into the side of the house there, as well. But just one of the stories that has just really struck me the most here in this neighborhood is with this young lady here, Gwen Dabbs. Gwen was in this window. You might look over my shoulder there, in the corner of that house. You weren't able to make into -- into the bathroom, an interior room in time.


LAVANDERA: What was that like for you?

DABBS: It was so scary; it was too scary. It just came so fast. And I couldn't move fast enough. I went to get my purse and my medicine to take in the bathroom, and it hit before I could get up, before I could get it. And it's right there.

LAVANDERA: You ducked into the corner of the room over there.

DABBS: Yes. By the window.

LAVANDERA: Covered yourself in blankets?

DABBS: Blankets and pillows and the ottoman, and the wind was pulling that cover back, and I was pulling the cover, trying to hold on to it. And I just saw debris, debris, debris, glass flying, glass breaking. It was...

LAVANDERA: You heard everything explode, you described it me earlier.

DABBS: Yes, yes. I don't know what else to say.

LAVANDERA: Just overwhelmed?

DABBS: So overwhelmed. So overwhelmed. Just a shock.

LAVANDERA: But I think the amazing thing about it is that you don't have any cuts. You're able to walk out of there.

DABBS: Not a one, not a one. I was dug down in that corner. And my body is sore from being down in that corner, but I don't have not a cut, not a scratch, and I'm so thankful. But thank you, lord.

LAVANDERA: And you got -- so your family was with you?

DABBS: I was in the house by myself.

LAVANDERA: Did you guys see -- you guys saw the storm coming, too, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw it in my house. I stay in another neighborhood over by the Lancaster High School. I knew something was wrong because the animals, they say they're the first to know, and they was trying to get in the house. And I got the phone call, you need to get up. Are you OK? I was like, what's the matter? Tornado just hit your auntie's house. She was in it. I did the best I could to get over here.

LAVANDERA: Are you amazed you were able to walk out of that house alive?

DABBS: I'm so amazed, and I'm so grateful, because I didn't know I could walk. When the man -- they came through the window to get me because I was crying for help -- "Help, help, somebody help me." I didn't even know that I had legs to stand.

LAVANDERA: Just -- the vantage point here doesn't do it damage because a lot of the damage is on the backside of the house. We just don't have enough cable to get over there. But a big massive tree on the other side of that basically impaled into the side of your home. I saw one of your curtains on top of a tree over there.


LAVANDERA: The force was just unbelievable.

DABBS: Unbelievable, unbelievable for it to come and do so much in so short a time. I mean, they said three to five minutes, but seemed like it was much longer. It was quick, but it was so devastating until it -- last like 15 minutes, it seemed like.

LAVANDERA: You just told me -- you told me a while ago. You described -- it was like being in the middle of "The Wizard of Oz."

DABBS: Right, right, right. The tornado in the "Wizard of Oz." Everything was just flying. You're trying to find a place to go, and you're trying to look, but you want to cover your head. It was just -- it was devastating. I have never seen it. I know it happens, but to me, it was...

LAVANDERA: We're glad you're OK.

DABBS: Thank you so much.

LAVANDERA: Jessica, this is -- we're having a hard time navigating with our equipment and our trucks through this neighborhood, but just one block over, a row of homes, about -- several dozen homes, destroyed, rooftops completely gone. This was kind of on the back end. The storm blew out this way. A devastating afternoon here in the city of Lancaster -- Jessica.

YELLIN: Wow. Just a remarkable story. And as you say, a blessing that she was able to walk out of there alive. Thanks so much, Ed.

Eddie Lavandera reporting for us from Lancaster, one of the areas hardest hit by the storm.

The line of storms is now east of Dallas. Let's check in again with meteorologist Chad Myers in the CNN severe weather center.

Chad, Dallas -- Texas isn't clear of the storms yet, are they?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Dallas proper is, but you know, the Dallas metro area and the TV stations cover more than just the two cities. So the Dallas TV stations are still busy covering the storms that are here to the northwest of Shreveport. Those right there, those are the ones that are still rotating. They still have the potential to put down a tornado.

But this would be Ft. Worth. This is Dallas. And now this line, Jessica, has moved to the east, almost like a big Zamboni, sweeping all of this humidity out of the air, taking the potential for tornadoes with it. So there's no more potential for significant tornadoes anywhere near the DFW area.

Let me show you, though, what this looked like as it came up through Dallas/Ft. Worth. We had two simultaneously rotating severe thunderstorms. We call them mesocyclones, because they are not part of a line. The line was still back out here. The rotation was here near Burlson (ph). It moved right on up into Kennondale (ph) and even up toward Arlington.

This one here, right here, that's the Lancaster storm. As it moved on up towards, and then moved right to Dallas, it even put down some tornadoes in the northeast of Dallas. They were simultaneous. They were like doing just like battling tops as they were just driving themselves right through Dallas and Ft. Worth. And we were nearly on TV, live with this type of system trying to cover two separate tornadoes on the ground at the same time. This was about three hours ago. They are now all gone. We are still waiting for the damage pictures from the Tarrant County storm, which is the west storm. This one here, we even believe that some of the damage here may be worse than the damage we're seeing in Dallas, where Eddie Lavandera is right now -- Jessica.

YELLIN: Chad, thanks so much.

And let's take a look again at these stunning pictures from earlier today. Those storms hurled gigantic tractor trailers through the air, leaving them in crumpled piles on the ground. Brian Todd is here, and Brian, look, these pictures sum up the power of these tornadoes. But you can tell us a little bit more about what happens to these trucks and what can happen now that the tornadoes are over.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. They're still assessing damage there, Jessica. We have a little bit more information about what happened at that particular depot. That is the Schneider National Trucking Company.

We saw this, as you mentioned, in real time. It came in about 2:30 Eastern Time from this tower camera. Saw these things being picked up and just thrown up like match sticks. You saw some flashes of light there in that video. Those were transformers, power cables being cut, things like that.

But what we have now is information from the Schneider National Trucking firm that that -- where that occurred, that was on LBJ Freeway just outside of Ft. Worth.

According to Janet Bonkowksi, a spokeswoman there, this moved through at about 1:30 local time there. Sixty-five people work there full time. They have about 300 truckers that go in and out of that depot every day. Remember, that was in the middle of the day, so that could have been a fairly busy period.

We do have some sound from a taped interview on the phone with Janet Bonkowski of Schneider National Trucking just kind of assessing the overall damage. Take a listen.


JANET BONKOWSKI, SPOKESPERSON, SCHNEIDER NATIONAL TRUCKING (via phone): We're currently assessing the status of the associates on location at the time of the tornado. At this time, there are no reported injuries. Certainly in a situation like this, that could change. We hope that it doesn't.

We have initial reports that there was no damage to our building but significant damage to the equipment that was on location in our yard area in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area.


TODD: Now, Jessica, we're going to give you an assessment of just what type of equipment we're talking about here. After she gave us that update, we were told they still don't have an update on the people who work there, how many might be injured. They said no injuries early, but that was very early in the assessment. They also said they did not have a full accounting of everyone -- of where everyone was who was there at the time. So they're working furiously to get that.

But as far as the measurements and just what was tossed up in the air there, an empty trailer, those things that you saw flying up in the air, 14,000 pounds. Seven tons. An empty trailer. When they're full, she said, they're 46,000 pounds. Those that you saw were probably empty. But still, that's seven tons flying through the air there. They're 53 feet long, and some of those were tossed hundreds of yards.

This video speaks for itself. So you get a sense of the measurement there. Again, they're trying to assess where some of these things landed, where they are, how far they are, who might have gotten hurt. Still very early in their assessment. But that's seven tons you're seeing flying through the air.

YELLIN: It's just astonishing and really worrisome that they don't have an assessment where everybody is yet. We'll keep on top of that. Thanks so much.

Tornado watches remain in effect now for north central and east Texas, as well as for southwest Arkansas and northwest Louisiana. Tornadoes hit the Dallas/Ft. Worth metro area very hard this afternoon. Damage there is widespread, but so far, there are no reports of deaths or serious injuries. We'll continue to follow this story all night long.

And coming up, President Obama makes it personal. He's going after Mitt Romney for the first time by name.

And some surprising exit poll results as Wisconsin votes for its pick in the GOP presidential race.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) YELLIN: This could be a big night for Mitt Romney, who is hoping for a sweep in today's Republican primaries. The polls are open for about another hour in D.C. and Maryland and until 9 Eastern in Wisconsin. But we're already getting information from our exit polls. Let's bring in CNN's Tom Foreman.

And Tom, I guess they're letting you play at the Magic Wall tonight.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is the most fascinating information tonight, too. I have to tell you, look, the big race is over here, but this is the one: 42 delegates up there in Wisconsin. Everybody is excited about what's coming out of there, and our exit polls are telling us three groups you've got to watch tonight.

Look at this, an open primary there. Thirty percent of the voters were independent, 58 percent Republican, 12 percent Democrat. You've got to watch this group over here. I'm going to show you this. Part of what we heard because this is fascinating.

The Democrats, 32 percent backing Rick Santorum, 22 percent behind Mitt Romney, based on exit polls so far. This is just a tiny fraction there. Why would Democrats be behind a conservative like Rick Santorum? There are two possibilities. One, the thing that we've heard rumblings about for so long, that maybe rabble-rousers are in there, trying to keep the Republican Party in turmoil.

But there's one other possibility: these could be Reagan Democrats. The question is: how old are they? If they're older than 46 years old, that means they could have voted for Ronald Reagan the last time that Wisconsin went Republican. That was 1984. That could be them. But we'll find out later on as the night goes on.

The second group you want to watch besides that is the vote by ideology. Look at this: very conservative voters, 31 percent; somewhat conservative today, 31 percent; moderate or liberal -- the people who voted today told us in our exist poll, 38 percent of them said they were moderate or liberal. That's a group that has tended to look pretty good for Mitt Romney. We'll find out if they are in this case.

And the last group we really want to watch here is the Tea Party group. Because look at this. Among our voters today, 57 percent said they support the Tea Party.

We know that Congressman Paul Ryan from up there recently endorsed Mitt Romney. As the night goes on, we have to look at that number and see if that endorsement took, and if it won some of those people over to Romney or if they'll continue looking at Santorum with favorable eyes as they have in so many other places -- Jessica.

YELLIN: Very interesting. We'll continue to follow your updates throughout the night. Tom Foreman will be at the Magic Wall all night. Thanks, Tom.

And here with us now as voters continue to go to the polls, "TIME" deputy Washington bureau chief, Michael Crowley; Romney advisor Bay Buchanan; and Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Paul Begala.

OK. Let's start right with what we just heard from Tom Foreman. Paul, what influence do you think Democrats might have tonight in Wisconsin? Anything significant?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Marginal. And Foreman, as always, has it exactly right. It's entirely possible that there are still a few people who call themselves Democrats but vote in national elections as Republicans. Those old Reagan Democrats.

I don't -- I don't believe in this sort of operation mischief that this -- I still can't remember his name, fat radio guy probably two, three, four years ago. I don't believe the myth that Democrats are doing it today. It's a Republican primary, and let the better Republican win. YELLIN: Michael, Romney has more than half the delegates needed to get -- to get the magic number, and Santorum is just a little behind him. Does he need -- more than a little. Does he need to win Wisconsin tonight to stay in the race? If he doesn't win tonight, can he justify staying on until Pennsylvania?

MICHAEL CROWLEY, DEPUTY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "TIME": Well, right before we came out here, it was on Twitter. He announced that he's got plans to be bowling in Pennsylvania tomorrow. So he's not even waiting to see the results he even had.

You know, I think if he did win it tonight, we would all have to stop and reassess what's going on. I think it's unlikely, but I do think he probably at least wants to have a go. It's his home state, Pennsylvania. Even that could be tough. He lost by 18 points during his reelection campaign.

YELLIN: But it's three weeks away.

CROWLEY: It's three weeks away. But there's not that much cost for him to stay in. He can run sort of a low-cost campaign and get some free media. I think he's building up to have a nice moment at the convention, you know, maybe try to get something out of a Romney administration. So there's no cost to stay around as long as he's not too nasty about it.

YELLIN: Bay, I'm saving a red-meat question for you. President Obama today decided to go after Mitt Romney by name for the first time in a campaign speech. Listen to a little bit of what he said.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of my potential opponents, Governor, Romney has said that he hoped a similar version of this plan from last year would be introduced as a bill on day one of his presidency. He said that he's very supportive of this new budget, and he even called it marvelous, which is a word you don't often hear when it comes to describing a budget.


YELLIN: OK. A little snarky on the "marvelous," but do you think the meat of that kind of attack will work in a campaign?

BAY BUCHANAN, GOP STRATEGIST: Well, it's all he has, quite honestly, is to join the pack, because he cannot defend his record.

It astounds me that President Obama would attack the budget of a courageous congressman when he has -- what has he done? His reckless spending has put this country on the brink of fiscal disaster.

And yet he's accused -- he's upset with someone else proposing a very responsible bold budget? I think that both, you know -- both Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney have -- are there together out there in Wisconsin. And they both are working to make certain that we turn this country around. And the only possible way we can do that, only possible way, is to come up with a budget that really is responsible and addresses the fact that we can no longer spend so recklessly as this president has done for years.

YELLIN: Well, Mitt Romney responded a little bit. Here's what he said on Sean Hannity's radio show.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (via phone): It's a disingenuous fear-mongered approach, which I understand it's going to catch a lot of attention. But as people dig in a little deeper I think they're going to understand that this is President Obama being President Obama, which is finding a way to deflect blame.


YELLIN: Paul, is he deflecting blame with fear-mongering?

BEGALA: No. It's campaigning. Look, I thought it's the best speech he's given this year. Now, I -- you know my bias. The audience should know I advise the pro-Obama super PAC. That means I don't ever talk to his campaign or to the White House. OK. So I'm independent, but I have a stake in this. I want to see the president reelected.

And so I loved that speech. It's exactly what he should be framing up. The Republicans, God bless them, with this bromance we have now between Romney and Ryan, they want to raise taxes. Rather, cut taxes for rich people like Romney and Ryan, who are both millionaires and come from wealthy families. And destroy Medicare, destroy student loans, destroy environmental protection, pay for tax breaks for the rich that even explode the deficit more. I mean, it's an extraordinary, extraordinary gift that Romney and Ryan have given us.


BUCHANAN: You are absolutely right. Because President Obama, you want to talk about destroying. He has destroyed the hopes and dreams of millions of Americans under his presidency.

CROWLEY: Battle lines have been drawn here.

One side can call the other fear mongering. I think you have a philosophical divide which is some ways to the healthy debate of the country.

One side wants to maintain low tax rates, particularly on the wealthy and reduce the size of government, cut spending particularly. President Obama says let's tax the rich more and we'll have more of a social safety net. It's a pretty reasonable philosophical divide.

YELLIN: Let's have a preview of the substantive side of the campaign. I think there will be a lot...


CROWLEY: Marvelous. Look for that coming up.

YELLIN: Thanks.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" is coming up at the top of the hour. Erin, the big three U.S. auto makers all reported strong sales last month. That sounds like good news to me. Is it good news?

YELLIN: It is good news. And there's no question about it: for the country when I look at the numbers, Jessica, the best single month for auto sales, when you add it up, since the summer of 2007. And yes, that's when everything was perfect with the housing market and everything else. So what does this really mean? We're going to talk about the bailout politics. That is going to be so crucial come November. Top of the hour, the auto news, good or bad for Mitt Romney.

Back to you.

YELLIN: OK, thanks, Erin.

And stay with Erin and the entire CNN election team throughout the night as they track primary results in Maryland, D.C. and Wisconsin. The first polls start closing in about an hour, so keep it here.


YELLIN: And here is Kate Bolduan with the latest news you need to know right now.

Hey, Kate.


Hello everyone. Good evening. Some headlines to catch you up on.

The U.S. is offering a $10 million reward for information leading to the capture of Pakistani militant leader Hafiz Mohammad Saeed. He's thought to be the mastermind behind the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai, India, which killed 166 people.

And a mock movie poster has popped up on several jihadist Web sites. It say, "al Qaeda coming soon again in New York." And now the FBI and New York police want to find out who posted it. No surprise. But an FBI spokesman stresses there's no specific or credible threat to the city.

And it would seem no one's job is safe in Rupert Murdoch's media empire, even family members. James Murdoch, once considered heir apparent to his dad's crown, has stepped down as chairman of British Sky Broadcasting, a major pay TV company. It's the latest fallout from the tabloid phone hacking scandal that's rattled the company.

And former vice president Dick Cheney is out of the hospital and continuing his recovery from a heart transplant ten days ago. In a written statement, Cheney thanks his doctors, as well as the heart donor and donor's family for, quote, "this remarkable gift". There's a picture of him recovering right there.

Daniel Craig will reprise his role as James Bond this summer, reportedly at the request of Queen Elizabeth. The actor will star in a short film for the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics. Details are -- probably no surprise to you -- under wraps. But word is we might expect to see Craig drop out of a helicopter into the London stadium and maybe even a cameo from the queen herself.

YELLIN: I don't think she'll be jettisoning in from a helicopter.

BOLDUAN: That might be a bit of a national security issue.

YELLIN: We'll look forward to that. Thank you so much, Kate.

That's all from us. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.