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THE SITUATION ROOM
Tornadoes Hit Dallas-Fort Worth Area; Al Qaeda Threat in NYC?; Sarah Palin Hosts "Today"; Interview with Texas Lieutenant Gov.
Aired April 3, 2012 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: Huge breaking news out of Texas, Dallas-Fort Worth. The images are breathtaking, almost hard to believe. Several, yes, several tornadoes touched the ground in Texas, widespread damage to homes, to buildings across the Dallas- Ft. Worth area in a string of vicious tornadoes terrorizing the region. All flights at the Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport have been grounded.
Passengers have been moved into shelters. Right now, the National Weather Service is urging everyone in the area to take cover. Stay inside. There are now reports of yet another tornado just developing. CNN meteorologist, Chad Myers, is at the CNN Severe Weather Center right now. This new tornado, what do you know, Chad?
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It was near McLendon-Chisholm now near Faith (ph) moving up toward Royce City. All those towns are east of Dallas, east of Dallas County right along U.S.-80, eventually, not even making its way on up to the I-30 corridor. That's what we're seeing now, and we are still seeing that Dallas and Ft. Worth are being cleared of these warnings, are being cleared of the thunderstorms as they move off to the east.
They're being pushed away, pushed to the east along with all of the severe weather. So, that's the cell right there. There is McLendon-Chisholm storm that was on the ground just a few minutes ago. We suspect it still is. The rotation is still there. So, if you are east now of Dallas County, you still have something more to worry about.
This isn't over for you. And there are still the eastern sections of Dallas and the farther -- points farther south that may still have some weather to work with all the way down to Waco, Texas tonight, Wolf.
BLITZER: This is by no means over by any means. Very quickly, before we speak to a spokeswoman for American Airlines, Chad, very quickly, give our viewers who are watching who are anywhere in the area, potentially, of this severe weather some advice.
MYERS: The advice that would be right now is to stay inside, especially now as it's going to get dark. There are going to be power lines down and they may not be dead. There will be limbs, and there will be pieces of roof, and there will be tile, and there will be things with nails sticking out that you may not see as you walk around. You may think that you're doing somebody a service, but that's what the authorities are for. That's what the volunteers are for. And if you just get out there with some tennis shoes or flip-flops on and start walking around and try to help people, you may, in fact, put yourself in more danger, and then, they may have to rescue you rather than happen to rescue the people that are actually injured.
You may put yourself in harm's way. You may put yourself in the help's way, as well. Stay inside, don't go out there and gawk with this. Figure it out tomorrow -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Potentially life-saving advice from Chad. Chad, I'm going to talk now to Andrea Huguely. She's joining us on the phone. She's the spokesperson for American Airlines. Andrea, thanks very much. I take that you've canceled all American Airlines flight in and out of Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport?
ANDREA HUGUELY, AMERICAN AIRLINE SPOKESWOMAN, FORTH WORTH, TEXAS (via telephone): We have, for the evening. The airport is open, and we are trying to bring back some of the diversions that are in the outlying cities at this point in time.
BLITZER: What does that mean, Andrea? Bring back the diversions?
HUGUELY: We have approximately 29 flights that needed to land in cities like Abilene, Texarkana because of the bad weather here in DFW. So, at this point in time, we are working diligently to bring those flights back to Dallas.
BLITZER: So, in other words, if a plane couldn't land at DFW, it landed some place else. You're not trying to bring that plane and the passengers back to Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport, is that right?
HUGUELY: No. We are trying to bring them -- we are trying to get them to their destination, which is Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport.
BLITZER: Even if they landed some place else, but you say the airport is open, but all flights that are supposed to leave Dallas-Ft. Worth, you've canceled that at least for today.
HUGUELY: That is correct. There may be a few flights that we are able to get out, unfortunately, because of the hail, we are needing to do hail inspections to our aircraft that were on the ground at the time.
BLITZER: Chad, do you have a question for Andrea from American Airlines?
MYERS: Well, I'm just wondering, and I have been diverted before. The people that were clearly just going to transfer in Dallas and go somewhere else, what will be done for them tonight?
HUGUELY: Well, we are working to re-accommodate those customers if there is another flight, and there may be a few that leave this evening. We're going to try to re-accommodate as many of those this evening as we can. If not, we will look to re-accommodate them tomorrow.
So, it is unfortunate that we aren't able to have flights take off or land at this point in time, but of course, the safety of all of our customers is our priority.
MYERS: Can you tell me a little bit -- can you tell me what a hail inspection looks like? What does it entail?
HUGUELY: Well, a hail inspection requires that a mechanic look over everything on the aircraft, top to bottom. So, depending on the size of the aircraft, that will determine how long a hail inspection takes, but they look over the aircraft from head to tail to look to see if there are any dents or any damage.
BLITZER: Andrea, flights that were scheduled to land at Dallas- Ft. Worth International Airport, international flights, major -- a huge planes, jumbo jets, if you will, they can't land at DFW right now. So, where are they going? Are they going to Houston? Are they going some place else? Where do they land American Airlines flights in a situation like this?
HUGUELY: Well, fortunately, the airport is open, and we are working to get those flights that needed to land in other cities back in, but we -- flights that are international flights, we look for cities that actually have customs, Houston as good example.
BLITZER: So, in other words, if the flights coming in from South America, you wouldn't have it land in Houston right now rather than going to Dallas-Ft. Worth where it's still dangerous.
HUGUELY: Well, now, that the airport is open, we are able to accommodate that aircraft, but if for some reason the airport were to close and that flight were inbound, we would look for an airport that pass customs and those types of facilities to bring that aircraft.
BLITZER: So, when you say that the airport is open, it's open to incoming planes but not outgoing planes, is that what you're saying?
HUGUELY: Yes. The airport is open, meaning it can receive inbound or outbound aircraft. However, because of the number of flights that were held either at the gates or held in another city because of the bad weather, what we try to do is to cut down on that traffic, so we can bring in, those flights that needed to land in an Abilene or Texarkana. We give those first priority so we can try to get them to DFW or on to another destination city.
BLITZER: Andrea, good luck. I know a lot of passengers, not only American Airlines, but lot of other airlines are worried about making connections, but they want to be, first and foremost, safe, as you know. And I know you're doing your best under difficult circumstances. Andrea Huguely is a spokesperson for American Airlines. Chad, these pictures we're seeing right now and it's so heartbreaking to see. On the right side of the screen right now, you're seeing these live pictures, a home completely destroyed, the roof simply ripped off, and to the left, you see a little bit less damage, you see bad damage, but nowhere near the damage of the home on the right side of the screen which we'll show you in a minute, hopefully.
This is courtesy of our affiliate, WFAA. Explain once again to our viewers why one home may survive in better shape than the house right next door.
MYERS: Well, first of all, what I see is that this was not a wide tornado. This was not an EF-4, 170, 180-mile per hour tornado or certainly more than one home would be damaged severely. So, you probably have something around an EF-2, 120 or 130 mile-per-hour storm where the eastern or the right periphery damaged the roof to the house on the right.
The left part of the tornado damaged the house on the left at least a little bit, but the middle of the tornado went right through the house that we see in the middle that literally lost an entire section of the roof and lost part of the second story.
So, that's where the randomness of this tornado as it went through, it was right the line of the tornado, went right over that middle house, and only had small damage on the left and on the right. The middle home, it (ph) can have had 120 mile-per-hour wind had no chance of staying up, but the left and the right home may have only had 80 or 90-mile-per-hour winds because it's not in the middle.
It's not the ice skater where she pulls her arms in that gets hit by that big wind in the middle, because that ice skater is going so fast. On the outside, it's the ice skater with her arms out and she's kind of going a little bit slower. The winds on the outside of the tornado are not what they are on the inside.
So, the damage is more up and down or more left to right and right through the middle of that home, and then, it skips, Wolf. It didn't even hit a home on the other side of the street.
BLITZER: Yes. It's really amazing, because the folks in this neighborhood, they must be saying to themselves, you know, why am I lucky? Why am I not lucky? What happened to me? My neighbor across the street looks to be in pretty good shape.
In some of those homes where you see the roof basically blown away in an enormous destruction, if people were in those homes, the safest place to be, and you know this better than I do, is both down deep as possible, and hopefully, in a bathtub, in a bathroom, is that right?
MYERS: Certainly. The best place to be from top to bottom, one would be storm shelter, a real made storm shelter, either below your garage, below your home, blasted into the rock that these homes sit on. These homes are not sitting on basements because the rock below that won't allow it.
You literally have to use dynamite to make a basement in Dallas, or Austin or San Antonio or Oklahoma City, for that matter. Really tornado alley (ph) sitting on a bunch of rock so you don't have to dig out the dirt type of basements that we have in the northeast. So, you want to be as low as you can be. Get down, cover up. Those are the two things. Get down to the lowest level. If you're in an apartment building, make sure you know the person that's on the first floor.
You would never want to be on the third floor because that's what you would experience. The third floor may not be there after the tornado. It may be completely gone where the first floor is certainly just fine. This tornado, and let's go from zero to five, because no one really understands this Fujita scale or this EF scale. EF-0, not very much damage, a few shingles are gone.
EF-1, the shingles are gone and maybe a board or two on the top of the roof gone as well and things blown around kind of like this. EF-3, now all of a sudden, you've lost boards on the roof. It looks like this. You've lost the entire roofing sections. You've lost the struts of the roof itself. And then, all of a sudden EF-4, you've lost walls.
Less than 200 miles per hour, but there may be one or two walls still in the middle of your home when you get home. If you're still there, you want to be in one of those or inside one of those two walls. Typically, that's a closet or a bathroom and an EF-5, above 200 miles per hour, sometimes, we call those unsurvivable.
There's nothing left except the slab. If you are in that home, you're pushed away. Luckily, there's only one EF-5 on average every few years, even though we've had quite a few in the past couple of years. That certainly was not the norm -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. Certainly not. Chad, stand by for a moment. We have someone who survived this tornado. Jonathan Cook is joining us on the phone right now. Jonathan, I take it you were caught in the middle of a tornado in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. You took shelter in a bank. Walk us through where you were and what happened.
JONATHAN COOK, CAUGHT IN TORNADO (via telephone): Well, I was in the bank meeting with my loan officer, and she had two windows in her office, and we saw lightning strike what seemed to be just across the street, and just a second after it struck, we heard really loud thunder. And it happened with another lightning strike followed by loud thunder, and that time (ph), I said we need to look out the window and ser what's going on.
I looked out the window and that's when the hail started. And I said I've got to go. So, I ran out the front, I got my truck and took my truck across the street to the racetrack gas station where a lot of people were taking shelter. A guy next to me (INAUDIBLE) busted his windshield out.
And at that time, there were no reports of tornadoes, but about two minutes after that, a guy pulled up from the National Weather Service, and he had a two-way radio in his truck that was reporting, from talking tornadoes touch down about an eighth of a mile from where we were. And as soon as he pulled up, a girl said look up and she pointed with two fingers.
We all looked to the sky, and there were two funnel clouds that touched down about an eighth of a mile up from us and debris was flying. And we were trying to decide where to go, and about that time, she said look behind us and a third tornado formed behind us, but it hadn't touched down, and about three minutes after that, the sirens started sounding and a guy came over our siren there in South Fort Worth Burleson (ph) area and he said, "tornado warning take cover, all of Tarrant and Johnson County."
And we were looking dead in the eye of two funnel clouds that had touched down all about an eighth of a mile from us.
BLITZER: But, Jonathan -- Jonathan, you're OK now, right?
COOK: Yes. We're in a safe place. The tornadoes have gone now through Arlington, and we're in a safe. It's just slightly raining here now, but as soon as I got back in my truck after the tornadoes picked up, I could only drive about an eighth of a mile before the police had I-35W down to one lane where it had touched down about an eighth of a mile from us and overturned vehicles on the highway. It was a bad situation this morning.
BLITZER: And Jonathan, I understand that this is not the first time you were caught in a tornado, is it?
COOK: It was this time last year that the same situation happened, but it never touched down. It was very close us to us, and today was far worse than this time last year. You know, it was once (ph) in one area and two of them touched down at the same time. We were among many people at the gas station, they're scared for our lives.
BLITZER: Well, thank God you're OK and the other folks who were with you are OK, but we're showing our viewers these horrendous pictures of homes simply destroyed by these tornados that shook Dallas and Fort Worth, the entire area, as you point out. Jonathan Cooke, thanks very much.
Our own Ed Lavandera is in Lancaster, Texas, just south of Dallas. What are you seeing there now, Ed?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're bringing you this shot from the laptop computer (INAUDIBLE), but we're here with Gwen Debbs (ph), and we're in the town of Lancaster, south of Dallas. Gwen, this window that you see behind us, (INAUDIBLE) you were in this room.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was in this room right her here. When the tornado came (INAUDIBLE) and I thought we (INAUDIBLE) I looked out the window to see (INAUDIBLE).
(NO AUDIO) BLITZER: All right. Well, it looks like we've lost our connection with Ed, but we'll try to get back. He's, obviously, on the scene where one family's possessions and their home is simply devastated. We'll check back with Ed once we can reconnect, but look at these pictures and look at these awful, awful pictures of this homes, this residential area destroyed by this tornadoes that shook the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.
We'll stay on top of this story. We'll go back there live. Chad Myers is with us. Ed Lavandera is on the scene. Brian Todd is working his sources as well. Much more on the breaking news right after this.
BLITZER: All right. Look at these live pictures coming out courtesy of our affiliate, WFAA, in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. Tornadoes ripping apart residential areas. You can see these homes destroyed, roofs destroyed. What a situation unfolding. We're watching the breaking news unfold. We're also -- Ed Lavandera on the scene. You can see that this building over here, you see part of the roof simply collapsed, simply ripped off by these tornadoes.
The reconstruction, damage control, the search and rescue is only just beginning. Let's bring back Chad Myers who's watching what's going on. Chad, I take it there's another tornado system developing right now?
MYERS: There's a tornado south of Cattle Mills and it's kind of an unpopulated area, but that's what's happening now. All of this weather that was here at about one o'clock, here 2:00, and maybe here at three o'clock has now moved well out to the east and out the I-30 corridor and that storm right there, Cattle Mill storm, about ten miles south of there is still rotating, and there's a confirmed tornado on the ground with it, just not hitting any towns.
But if you're east of Dallas, you are not out of the woods yet, because this entire line of weather is still headed your way. Now, when storms line up, they typically don't rotate. They simply make a squall line or wind damage. When you have a storm that's all by itself, it will begin to rotate. It won't be fighting other storms that are along the line.
That storm, that spin, the rotation gets going, and then, all of a sudden, if it's called the super cell, then all of a sudden, you get weather like this. You get the tornado to fall out of the sky, and today, we had two side by side super cells about 30 miles apart. One that was going through Tarrant County, one through Dallas County.
The one that went through Dallas County went right through the area that our Ed Lavandera has driven down to. The one that went through Tarrant County went from Spinks Airport all the way up into Arlington with significant damage.
Now, we know from six flags, we know from the football stadium and other places that there's not that much significant damage in Arlington, but just to the south of there, there's literally, they're calling it devastation in some spots with gas leaks in homes where parts of the homes are completely gone.
We have not been able to fly to that part of the weather cell, because we have not been able to get there because weather has been in the way. These helicopters don't want to fly through severe weather. They don't want to fly through a hailstorm, for sure.
So, now, that we're starting to clear out the weather there in Tarrant County, then we're going to start to be able to see how bad that weather is, how bad that damage is, and public information officers are telling us one after the other it's bad. It's bad.
We have everybody on the way, even Arlington now has declared a state of emergency for their town there, especially on the southwestern part of the town where most of that damage occurred. But this damage you see right here, Wolf, we're talking about a 110, 120- mile-per-hour storm that will take the roof off of building like this.
Now, some structures aren't as strong as others. Of course, some structures are made of aluminum, some structures don't have doors. And so, if you get a barn or a little farm building where the doors aren't closed, an 80-mile-per-hour wind can blow in there, and literally, blow it apart from the outside in.
And so, we are still seeing and we're getting more and more live video in, and we will see it as it comes when we get to Tarrant County we might have our jaws dropping as how bad some of that damage is out there, but obviously, for the people here, this is bad enough, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. Awful. And as you say, in the pictures that we're about to get are even more devastating. Bad news is only going to begin as we assess what's going on. Chad, stand by. We're watching the breaking news situation in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. More information as it comes in.
Also, here in the SITUATION ROOM, we'll have the latest on a chilling online post, look at this, that has the FBI and the NYPD on alert right now.
BLITZER: We're just getting this new video coming in. Look at this tornado. Look at the funnel as it's coming in and hitting these areas. You see these tractor trailers? Some of these trailers simply lifted out of the skies and flown several hundred feet as a result of these tornadoes, but these pictures just coming in to us.
And we're going to have more of these pictures, more of the news, the breaking news coming in, the devastation out of the Dallas-Ft. Worth Area. And as Chad Myers has been reporting, the worst is yet to be seen. We're getting new information on some of the areas we don't have pictures, we don't have video of those areas yet, but we're collecting it right now.
We'll share these video images with you as soon as they come in, but you can see some of the destruction. A new tornado just hit the ground just a little while ago. We'll stay on top of this story, but I want to move on to some other news we're watching right now as well.
It looks almost, almost like a movie preview, except it's a threat targeting New York and the coming attraction, look at this, is al Qaeda. CNN's Mary Snow is on the streets of New York right now. She's joining us with the latest on a chilling online posting that's capturing the attention of the New York Police Department and the FBI. Mary, what do we know?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the NYPD says it picked up on this image Monday on a Web site that it monitors on regular basis. Now, officials say there's no specific threat tied to it, and therefore, it hasn't triggered any increased security, and whether this is anything more than a graphic on a Web site is not clear.
SNOW (voice-over): At first glance, it could be mistaken for a movie ad, al Qaeda coming soon again in New York. The message is on a Web site known to the New York City Police Department who say it's used by terrorists and jihadists. Officials say they have no evidence that it's tied to any specific threat to New York, but the Web site is being analyzed by the FBI and the NYPD.
Is this significant at all?
COMMISSIONER RAY KELLY, NEW YORK CITY POLICE: Well, this is a major forum. It's called -- it's been in existence for a while. We believe it's used for inspiration, but also, to be used for operational messages. It exists in several different languages, and you know, it's been a concern of ours for a while.
SNOW: New York City police commissioner, Ray Kelly, says analysts believe it's connected to an Egyptian national based on the language that's used. Kelly says he was struck by the level of the sophistication of the graphic and the expensive software used to create it, but whether there's a credible threat, CNN terrorism analyst, Peter Bergen, is skeptical.
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: This is a real piece of propaganda. It doesn't mean it's associated with any real plot. I mean that seems to be not clear at all and my guess is that there's nothing really to this. You know if it was a real attack about to happen on New York my guess is al Qaeda wouldn't advertise it on their website.
SNOW: This isn't the first time threatening messages have appeared on jihadi. The federal authorities and the police department say any threat must be taken seriously.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you know it's sort of in your face and we've seen that before, but, you know, it is sort of a direct confrontation, you know trying to get our attention, well believe me, they have our attention. SNOW: But the posting didn't seem to faze New Yorkers who have become accustomed to terrorism threats.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's propaganda. They want people to get uptight.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is what it is. You have to live your life. You can't be worried. Go about your everyday business.
SNOW: Now the police commissioner describes the Internet as the new Afghanistan. That it's used for radicalization and training and that's why he says these sites are so closely monitored -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Mary Snow in New York for us. Thank you.
Let's discuss what's going on a little deeper right now, a potential terror threat. Our national security contributor and former Bush homeland security adviser Fran Townsend is here. Al Qaeda coming soon again in New York, you were the homeland security adviser to President Bush. What goes through your mind when you see this posted on a jihadi Web site?
FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well Wolf, look it makes perfect sense. The commissioner, the police commissioner is quite right. It makes perfect sense that when you see something we monitor these sites and when you see something like that you've got to run it to see if there are any leads connected to it. You know we've seen this sort of thing before. I remember the "Inspire" (ph) magazine which was an Internet publication by Majid Kahn (ph), who has now been killed. He was a colleague of Anwar al Awlaki's in Yemen. He ran --
BLITZER: Who was also killed.
TOWNSEND: Exactly. And the "Inspire" (ph) magazine made references at one point to Chicago. Well, that was run down and there was no immediate threat there either, so I think the FBI and NYPD are right to run it down. But I also think it's right, we can't presume that this is tied to any anything in the immediate threat and is anything more than propaganda.
BLITZER: But what it does do potentially is inspires what right now is seen as a major threat, the so-called lone wolf out there.
TOWNSEND: That's right and so the most difficult, as you've talked about many times, the most difficult thing to uncover and to preempt before an individual takes action, and so you know the interesting thing, Wolf, right now is we've seen all of these jihadist-type websites that are typically monitored have gone down. It's not clear what the cause of that is. You know when you look at who's got the capability. That's the sort of capability you associate with the government actor, but it's not clear and for this to come out now you can see why the law enforcement community wants to pay particular attention to it and understand whether or not it is threat related, but none of the sources I've spoken to believe it is.
BLITZER: So these key al Qaeda-related Internet sites, jihadi websites they have gone dark for what, the last two weeks or so?
TOWNSEND: About -- yes that's right, since the end of March --
BLITZER: And so it's either someone forced them to go dark or they deliberately on their own decided to stop what they were doing.
TOWNSEND: Yes, there's no indication that they decided because it was sort of a rolling outage, if you will. One went down. A couple of days later two more went down --
BLITZER: So this could be cyber warfare from some country or organization taking these jihadi websites down.
TOWNSEND: That's right. It looks like what we'd call a denial of service attack. All of a sudden little by little you're creeping along and you're taking more and more of these websites down. There are a number of countries that have that capability and we know that there are non-state actors who have got the capability to do that, and it will be interested to see. You know since Majid Kahn (ph) and Anwar al Awlaki (ph) were killed there's been no "Inspire" (ph) magazine and that is very -- makes the law enforcement community in the U.S. very happy, but there's been a concern that someone would try to re-publish or take up that mantle and this may be an effort to stop somebody from doing that.
BLITZER: Fran Townsend, thanks very much.
I want to get back to the breaking news right now to the Dallas- Ft. Worth area, a series of tornadoes pummeling major parts of the community. You are looking at these live pictures coming in courtesy of our affiliate WFAA. That's earlier. You see that funnel from that tornado moving towards those trailer trucks. Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst (ph) of Texas is joining us on the phone right now. Lieutenant Governor thanks very much. First of all, do you have any reports of casualties yet, because we see the physical property damage pretty destructive.
LIEUTENANT GOV. DAVID DEWHURST, (R) TEXAS (via telephone): Wolf, no. The pictures that you're seeing and that I'm seeing are just -- just horrific, but we've got reports of a number of injuries, but no reports of fatalities at the present time. Our local news --
BLITZER: Thank God for that.
DEWHURST: Absolutely. Absolutely, but local news has reported that five tornadoes have gone through the -- through the Dallas area. We've got, of course, the whole storm system is in Dallas and Fort Worth and it's affecting Dallas County, Tarrant County, Johnson County, and Ellis County. But most of the damage to date has been done in southwest Dallas County including a lot of hail damage. We've got an unconfirmed report that a nursing home has been damaged. We don't know if there are any injuries. And we've got a lot of flooding, but the most important thing, and I know you've been pressing it -- you've been stressing this in the past is with such severe weather and such power in the tornadoes that, ladies and gentlemen, if you're, if the National Weather Service or local officials urge you to take shelter, please go down on your ground floor inside a hallway, don't have any exposure to glass and to the windows and please, please be safe. There's plenty of time to go outside and take a look at damage. Right now is not the time to do it --
BLITZER: Even if you go outside now, Governor, as you well know with the power lines down, a lot of glass --
BLITZER: -- a lot of nails out there, it's pretty dangerous even if you think the tornadoes and the severe weather have passed, it's still pretty dangerous to simply walk around in your neighborhood.
DEWHURST: That's exactly right, Wolf. And we do have -- we have activated the state of Texas Emergency Management Center. We are monitoring this. Unfortunately, Wolf, we've had a lot of experience over the years and with hurricanes, tornadoes and floods. And so, ladies and gentlemen, we have got text (ph) on our Highway Department standing by for debris cleaning as soon as it's safe for them to move in. So just please, stay right where you are, stay safe, and pay attention to the National Weather Service and CNN and other stations.
BLITZER: Is it premature, Lieutenant Governor, to ask for FEMA or any federal assistance into this emergency that is taking place in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area or is that something you'll decide down the road?
DEWHURST: We'll decide that as soon as we can get -- it may not be premature -- we'll decide that as quickly as we can get crews out and take a look at the damage which has been done. We know that there's been -- there have been quite a few individual truck stops and the 18-wheeler that we all saw and different homes which have been destroyed, but we have to get a check on this before we turn in any application.
BLITZER: And you, of course, know better than I do, Lieutenant Governor, the tornado season is only just beginning. I assume you're bracing, unfortunately, for more of these kinds of disasters.
DEWHURST: We always hope for the best and prepare for the worst. In other words, we think we got -- last summer we got through the hurricane season after going through a rough time in 2005 and 2008 with Hurricanes Rita and then with Hurricane Ike came through which was devastating for us, but we're -- but we're in the tornado season, so please, ladies and gentlemen, pay attention and if there are any warnings from either the TV stations or the National Weather Service go inside, inside room, ground floor and be safe, please.
BLITZER: Lieutenant Governor, good luck to you, good luck to all the folks in Texas. Right now we are praying for you, with you. Appreciate it very much.
DEWHURST: Thank you, Wolf. Thank you. Bye..
BLITZER: Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst of Texas. Look at these pictures, this was someone's bedroom just a little while ago, still is a bedroom, but there's no roof on top of that house right there. You can only imagine the family and what it must be going through watching this devastation and this was one of the tornadoes, the funnel that simply came into this trailer, truck-trailer area and some of these trucks, these trailers were simply blown up into the sky and hurled hundreds of feet. Look at this. We will take a quick break, continue the breaking news coverage on the other side.
BLITZER: We are following the breaking news. You are looking at these new pictures just coming in. You see those tornado clouds in the rear there as it begins -- this is video from earlier that came in. We are just getting it, though, right now. You hear the sirens, the alert systems going off. This tornado situation in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area is by no means over. Chad Myers is joining me right now. Chad, what is the current situation as far as tornadoes in northern -- in north Texas are concerned?
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: The people in north Texas, especially northeast Texas, still are under the gun, and I say that only because there are still storms that are not along the line. The line will maybe make a small tornado, but more likely we call this a squall line. It will make wind damage as the storms come in. There may even be some hail with it, but there are still cells out ahead of the line there, there, there, there and they're all by themselves.
We call them super cells. They don't have to fight the other cells to rotate. Think about when you were a kid and you had this -- I had this great game called "battling tops". If you took a top and you pulled the string and you let it go in there by itself it could spin for five minutes because it was all by itself. It wasn't hitting any of the other tops. Now you get three other guys on the other side of "battling tops", you'd pull the string and you have got four tops in there banging off each other, all of a sudden they don't run very long because they are hitting each other.
They are affecting each other's spin and that's what happens along the line. The storms affect each other's spin. When they're out by themselves they are the battling tops out there, able to spin for a long time and when you spin for a long time you can get enough energy and enough momentum to put down a tornado and they're called super cells and they're out by themselves. They're out ahead of the line and they're the most dangerous type of weather.
Now we have WFAA, our affiliate here, flying into different neighborhoods. Neighborhoods we haven't seen yet. Neighborhoods into Tarrant County, (INAUDIBLE) see a lot of parts of the east and sections into Dallas County, but our affiliates are from Dallas and then it was very difficult to get the helicopters into the western sections of the viewing area there because simply there were storms in the way. They couldn't fly through the hail. They couldn't fly through somebody's big line of weather (INAUDIBLE) all of the way from the airport, all of the way down now almost to Waco, Texas, so we are picking up these -- this video, the videos that come in. They're going to finding worst and worst video.
We know of some areas where 40, 50, 60 homes are flattened. We know that there are gas leaks in some. There are states of disaster, states of emergency in some of these towns and this is going to be a very long night for the people there in the Dallas, the Ft. Worth metroplex (ph). Two simultaneous super cells rotated side by side about 50 miles apart. That means they weren't really battling. They were far enough apart to battle only each other or battle themselves and one went right up I-35E. One went right up I-35W. That's called two different interstates that kid of go parallel north to south through Dallas-Ft. Worth and we had two separate areas with two tornadoes on the ground at the same time through the DFW area -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, it's a scary situation that's going to be getting dark in that area fairly soon. So folks really have to be careful when they go outside because power lines could be up, nails, construction, debris. It's still a dangerous situation as you can see from these pictures that are coming into us right now. Chad, don't go too far away. Well get back to the breaking news, but there are other news we're following right now, as well.
The first exit polls are just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from today's big contest. Let's go straight to our own Tom Foreman. He's breaking down the numbers. We know there are primaries today in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia. Tom, what are we learning?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well what we are learning, Wolf, as we often do, there's a lot of dissension out there in the ranks about this, all the purple states are the ones Rick Santorum won. This is Newt Gingrich down here in red. And the maroon of course is Mitt Romney, but let's take a look at Wisconsin. That's the big prize everyone is interested in today. Forty-two delegates up there, big prizes like Milwaukee with 18 percent of the population, much of the state however is agricultural and rural. So what are they interested in? Our exit polls, Wolf, let's take a look at that.
The number one issue as it's been in many, many places, the economy. Fifty-eight percent of the voters up there in today's voting saying that's the thing that most concerns them right now. Let's look a little bit closer at that. What do they think of it? Starting to recover, 28 percent, staying about the same, 28 percent, getting worse, 43 percent of the people up there think the economy is actually getting worse. That's interesting, Wolf, because their unemployment rate is actually substantially better than the rest of the country and their income is about average. So that reflects sort of what we've heard from a lot of Republicans around the country in different votes and what will that mean to the candidates?
We won't get into specifics yet, but we do know that by and large, Mitt Romney has done better with the higher earners. Rick Santorum has done better with the lower earners, so if you look under $30,000 a year, we can tell you this much, there, Rick Santorum seems to be doing better in the exit polls, 44 percent to 34 percent for Mitt Romney, but if we move to one of the higher categories here, 100 to 200,000, look at that. Once again, Mitt Romney, 55 percent to Rick Santorum's 30 percent. What we're going to be watching tonight, Wolf is how the rest of these categories play out all across the state of Wisconsin and what that will mean on whether or not Mitt Romney gets closer to sewing up the deal or Rick Santorum builds his case for moving closer to the convention.
BLITZER: All right Tom. Tom is going to be with us throughout the night as we cover these primaries and these three contests tonight. CNN's coverage of today's primaries will begin at 7:00 p.m. Eastern with Erin Burnett "OUTFRONT" followed by "AC 360" and 8:00 p.m. Eastern Piers Morgan tonight live at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. We'll take a quick break, a lot more news coming up right after this.
BLITZER: We've been following the breaking news out of the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. The tornadoes that struck the area, look in the right part of your screen, you see that home, the roof simply blown away, the destruction intense. So far, we have no indications of any fatalities but there are casualties according to the lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst, of Texas. Brian Todd is joining us right now. He's got a closer look at some of the other horrifying images coming in from these Texas tornadoes. What else are you seeing, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, we've been paying particular attention to those horrific images of those tractor trailers being tossed up in the air like they really weighed nothing, but clearly these are very substantial tractors and trailers. This was from the Schneider Trucking facility near Dallas off the LBJ Freeway.
We'll roll you some of those pictures that we saw coming in. We started to get our first images of this in at about 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time, 1:30 p.m. in the Dallas area. You see a tractor trailer being hoisted there in the air, thrown several hundred yards. Just back in touch a few moments ago with the people at Schneider Trucking, no updates that they can give me from the earlier one that they gave last hour regarding injuries and people missing.
They do not have a full accounting right now of everyone who is missing from their facility or who may be hurt. They do not have reports of injuries at this time, but they stress that it's very early in the assessment period, but that could change. We're going to take you again to some sound we got from our phone interview with Janet Bonkowski from Schneider Trucking, that facility that was hit so hard in those pictures.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JANET BONKOWSKI, SCHNEIDER NATIONAL TRUCKING: We're currently assessing the status of the associates who were 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: About that equipment, because I just got an update on just what kind of equipment this is and just how big it is to get you a sense of just what was tossed around there. What we're told by Schneider is that a tractor weighs 20,000 pounds. An empty trailer weighs 14,000 pounds. Full, according to Erin Elliott (ph) from Schneider it weighs about 46,000 pounds. Even if those trailers that you see were empty, that's 14,000 pounds being tossed up in the air. These trailers are 53 feet in length.
And that is just -- it's stunning, Wolf, when you see just how these things were tossed up in the air, the weight and the length of an empty trailer, 14,000 pounds at the very least, you're talking about just being tossed in the air like it was nothing, thrown several hundred yards by these tornadoes. And again, a quick update from Schneider. They do not have any reports of injuries yet, but again still very early in their assessment period -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And she didn't know exactly how many of these trailers were flown up into the air and landed a few hundred feet away because we've seen these pictures that are so dramatic.
TODD: They don't have specific numbers yet and again they have got to track some of these hundreds of yards away and see exactly where they went. So they're probably doing that right now. They did not have a number on exactly how many got damaged. I think you could probably put it, well, at least from what we saw in the video, at least 10 to 12, 15, that's probably a minimum figure from what we saw in the video. But they're still trying to assess that right now and again, 14,000 pounds each is what you're seeing flying through the air there at the very least because that's what those trailers weigh when they're empty.
BLITZER: Wow, all right Brian thanks very much. We'll stay on top of that breaking news story. But there's other news we're following as well. It's something most of us never though we'd see, Sarah Palin hosting, yes hosting the "Today Show". Her one day stint with the quote, "lame stream media" generating lots of buzz, our own Dana Bash is all over this story. Dana, how did the former governor do?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Pretty well, Wolf. It was definitely a side of Sarah Palin we almost never get to see, but there was no direct mention of the real reason the "Today Show" flew her from Alaska to be a guest host today in order to compete with Katie Couric who of course is filling in at "Good Morning America" all week, but Palin did start the program with a humorous illusion to the infamous interview Katie conducted that didn't go so well for Palin.
MATT LAUER, NBC "TODAY" ANCHOR: It is a pleasure to welcome the former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to our program this morning. She's -- oh, man, she's doing her homework.
BASH (voice-over): Right out of the gate, self deprecating humor.
LAUER: That's my dressing room, apparently now her dressing room. And she's taking notes, getting ready for some upcoming segments here.
SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: Thanks for letting me crash your dressing room.
BASH: Matt Lauer thought it was funny, sort of.
LAUER: Technically I didn't give you permission to be in there by the way --
BASH: Sarah Palin's first assignment in this much hyped stint as "Today Show" host was to be a guest. She talked about Mitt Romney as if they'd poured sour milk in her coffee.
PALIN: You know anything is still possible. There can still be a bit of a shakeup, but the numbers are what the numbers are.
LAUER: It doesn't sound like you're happy with Mitt Romney as the party's nominee.
PALIN: Anybody but Obama --
BASH: She had a warning for the next GOP VP pick.
PALIN: It doesn't matter if that person has national level experience or not. They're going to get clobbered by the lame stream media who does not like the conservative message.
BASH: Yes, without a hint of irony she took part in the longest running network morning show and whacked the mainstream media. Matt couldn't help himself.
LAUER: You are going to stick around and join us for our 8:00 hour, which technically makes you part of the lame stream media.
BASH: How much more mainstream media can you be than this?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) Al first, so let's get a check of the weather with Al.
BASH: As guest host Palin took part in three segments. In "Today's Professionals" she slammed HBO's "Game Change".
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It turns out the women of America aren't finished yet and we (INAUDIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You never saw it?
PALIN: Didn't see "Game Change", no because I don't waste my time on false (INAUDIBLE) on lies.
BASH: And she defended Jessica Simpson's pregnancy weight gain.
LAUER: How would you had felt had someone criticized you for gaining too much weight?
PALIN: I would have wanted to punch them in the neck. You know why this is even an issue though, Matt, is because that Hollywood image is full of itty-bitty people --
BASH: In the next segment, she gushed over one of those itty- bitty Hollywood people, Tori Spelling, now pregnant with her fourth child.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right now I have to catch up to you --
PALIN: Keep going -- yes, keep -- the more the merrier.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you do it with five?
PALIN: You're a real good example, good inspiration for others, Tori --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you --
PALIN: Accomplishing so much and having fun, you're living life vibrantly.
BASH: In the end the only segment she technically co-hosted was on mothering teenage daughters and Palin went rogue when a visibly anxious Ann Curry tried to go to commercial break.
PALIN: There is a fine line between wanting to be your child's friend, wanting to be the cool mom or dad, the fun one, and being their parent.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hate to interrupt you guys here --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) want those boundaries.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to have to stop us even though we want to keep going. Thank you so much Janet Taylor (ph) and Haley Kilpatrick (ph) and you did a great job, Sarah Palin joining us here this morning --
BASH: So Palin showed her personality and seemed to do no harm politically, but Wolf, the real arbiter of that will be how she does in the ratings. This of course is a high-stakes competition with Katie Couric who again is guest hosting all week at ABC's "Good Morning America" and it was Palin herself who set this up as a head- to-head battle with Couric. She said yesterday, game on -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Didn't say -- didn't say game change. She said game on, right? So she's ready for a little, a little competition with Katie Couric. We did learn overnight, Dana, correct me if I'm wrong, NBC was not formally paying her to guest host the "Today Show". I assume they're paying her expenses, but they weren't giving her a fee or anything like that.
BASH: That's correct. Right after you and I got off the air yesterday, when you asked me that question, I was able to get through to NBC and they said that they absolutely not -- were not paying her to be on this morning in any way, shape, or form.
BLITZER: Did we get any indication she's going to be coming back or maybe NBC is going to wait until they see the ratings, tomorrow, how they did today, then we'll see if there's going to be a new co- host of the "Today Show"?
BASH: You know what, that's exactly what I was going to say. I was told by a spokesman actually at ABC that both the "Today Show" and "GMA" have asked for accelerated final ratings this week and so we expect to see the ratings probably about 1:00 tomorrow, so that probably will be when NBC will make that decision.
BLITZER: I assume that if she does well in the ratings, guess what, maybe she'll be co-hosting again because that competition, as you point out, between "Good Morning America" and the "Today Show" is very, very intense.
BASH: There's nothing like it.
BLITZER: Dana thanks very much.
BASH: Thanks Wolf.
BLITZER: And thanks for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Later today voters will complete the process in Wisconsin, Maryland, Washington, D.C. They'll choose their GOP candidate. CNN's coverage begins 7:00 p.m. Eastern when Erin Burnett "OUTFRONT" followed by "AC 360", at 8:00 "PIERS MORGAN" tonight at 9:00 p.m. The news continues next on CNN.