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Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion; Massive Explosion In West, Texas; Obama Arrives In Boston; Police Hunting For Boston Bombers

Aired April 18, 2013 - 10:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: -- Boston this morning as we get ready for an interfaith service honoring the victims. Investigators may, repeat, may be closing in on those behind the terror attack at the Boston marathon on Monday.

Chris Cuomo is joining us. He's outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross -- Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the bells are ringing here as we await the service to begin. We are waiting on the president to come here. There's still a line of people trying to get in as they get situated. The church holds 2,000 people.

The 1,000 of those seats will be for the general public, first come, first serve, but because of the urgency of the situation in the tiny town of West, Texas, less than 3,000 people.

Let's get back down there because since 7:00 last night their time, 7:30, they have been fighting to keep their town. So let's get to Martin Savidge. Martin, you're down there. What's the latest word? I know that they've been looking for some volunteer firefighters, anything on them or other rescues?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They have been looking for them and they have not as yet found them. At least not according to the latest briefing we've had from authorities. There was one law enforcement/firefighter. He has been found.

However, he's found alive in a hospital now in critical condition. But the other firefighters that are missing and the numbers they talk about there maybe three, maybe five, these would be first responders, those who first went into those flames and then felt the immediate impact of that terrible, terrible blast.

Some positives, daylight, it's going to aid the efforts. Search and rescue still ongoing. Weather that was affecting the search now has moved out of the area. So the fires have been contained.

Any possibility of a leak that is also said to be under control. The threat of that anhydrous ammonia seems to have been decreased. Let's take a look at just how bad it was last night.


SAVIDGE (voice-over): Stunning video, the West fertilizer plant in the small town of West, Texas, about 20 miles from Waco, exploding. The blast of the massive fire that followed, leaving dozens of homes and buildings heavily damaged or destroyed. The town's mayor telling CNN what it felt like.

TOMMY MUSKA, MAYOR, WEST, TEXAS (via telephone): I just never have seen an explosion like that. It was just a ball of fire and went up like a nuclear bomb went off, big old mushroom cloud.

SAVIDGE: The blast was so strong it registered as a magnitude 2.1 earthquake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Explosion on the horizon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A bomb just went off inside here. It's pretty bad.

SAVIDGE: Half of the town's 2,600 residents were forced to evacuate. Officials concerned about potentially deadly gas fumes and a second fertilizer tank that could also explode. People living near the plant feared for their lives.

CRYSTAL ANTHONY, WEST, TEXAS RESIDENT: When it exploded, we all just hit the ground and I was trying to cover up my daughter because there was a lot of debris flying. And then after that, it was just basically search and rescue.

SAVIDGE: The smoldering fire and fumes prevented rescue workers from getting near the plant. Officials say the blast area resembles a war zone.

WILSON: Massive, just like Iraq, just like the Murray Building in Oklahoma City. Same kind of anhydrous exploded. So you can imagine what kind of damage we're looking at there.


SAVIDGE: And authorities say that they have completed the first kind of cursory look through the entire damage area. Now they're going to go back over that same area in daylight and more methodically go house to house. Also, it's been reported there have been some instances, apparently, of looting. It is not said to be extensive -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right, we did hear from the presser that they do have extensive police presence there now from surrounding towns so hopefully they can keep it safe. Some good news comes out of those rescues. Fifty to 60 homes were heavily damaged. A four square block area.

So that just shows you how big a situation they're dealing with in tiny West, Texas. Let's go to George Howell. He is monitoring the situation in the hospitals. George, what's the latest from there?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chris, here at Hillcrest Hospital, they've set up a place where they're giving the media, giving us new information. We now know as we stated earlier, at least 101 people -- this hospital saw the most patients, 101 people. We know most of them were treated and released.

We also now know that 28 patients are still in this hospital receiving treatment. The hospital also received two pediatric trauma patients. There was a lot of talk, Chris, about this nursing home that was near that plant, several people in that nursing home. We know 12 people were brought to this hospital.

They have been treated, discharged and sent to alternative nursing homes. But, you know, when you talk about what happened to these people, we're talking about bruises, we're talking about the possibility of burning.

We spoke with Glenn Robinson who told us exactly what they're dealing with. Let's listen.


GLENN ROBINSON, CEO, HILLCREST BAPTIST MEDICAL CENTER: We have seen as you would expect in this type of blast, a lot of lacerations, some small, some large. Some puncture wounds.

Our orthopedic trauma team have also been taking care of a number of broken bones and dislocated hips and fractured hips, fractured legs, those types of things. We have also -- our neurosurgical trauma team has taken care of a handful of patients that have had head injuries.


HOWELL: So, Chris, you know, it's a lot of information here, but I want to tick through this list because there are several different hospitals not only Hillcrest but also Providence, a nearby hospital. They saw 65 patients.

Also at Scott & White that's the level one trauma center for this region. They saw five patients, two of them children in critical condition. We also note three adults, two of those adults in critical condition, one in stable condition.

Also Parkland Hospital in Dallas, keep in mind, they have one of the state's best burn units. Two patients were sent there. We do not know their conditions, but we're keeping on top of the numbers of injuries. So far, Chris, the number that I count is 173 so far.

This is a fluid situation. Obviously investigators are going house by house, door to door, looking for people. And I want to add this one thing. The temperature has dropped substantially.

Martin talked about the weather change since the system moved through 20, 30 degree difference than what we felt earlier. So, you know, it's uncomfortable out here. But certainly that will not get in the way of investigators doing their job to go and find any survivors.

CUOMO: Well, that's what we heard. That the search and rescue is still going on. George, thank you for monitoring. We'll come back to you, 170-plus injuries in a town of less than 3,000. It's a devastating chunk of that population. The good news that we heard, though, is that we're not hearing about more exposure to anhydrous ammonia, that deadly chemical down there used for the fertilizer. That's good news to hear. Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: We're going to get more on that, Chris. Stand by for a moment. The Texas National Guard is now monitoring the air in and around that town of West, Texas. It's about 20 miles or so outside of Waco. It's not clear how many people have been exposed to that kind of ammonia gas.

It's a gas that is used to make fertilizer at that huge fertilizer plant, but its fumes can be suffocating. In fact, can even be deadly and can cause blisters, chemical burns as it makes -- as it mixes with water in the body. The ammonia, the type of ammonia there at that fertilizer plant poses a major fire risk as well.

In fact, Timothy McVeigh used a similar chemical gleaned from fertilizer in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing of the Murray Federal Office Building. Even so, chemicals at the West, Texas plant -- officials at the West, Texas plant told officials that the ammonia at the facility wasn't, wasn't a fire risk at least for now.

According to the "Dallas Morning News," a report filed with the federal agency says the worst case scenario at the facility would be a 10-minute gas release that wouldn't hurt anyone.

Meanwhile, our affiliate WFAA reports that the plant was fined back in 2006 for having an inadequate risk management plan in place. Let's talk a little bit more about all of this with our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen.

First of all, hospitals, West, Texas, small town under 3,000 people, not far from Waco where they do have some significant hospitals. Here in Boston, for example, there are major hospitals within a few miles of the bombing that occurred, bombings that occurred. It's different there.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is a very different situation, Wolf. So we're standing right where the marathon bombs went off. There are six level one trauma centers within two miles of us, six within two miles.

In Texas, these people had to travel 23 miles to the hospital in Texas, Hillcrest. That is not a level one trauma center. It's a center that practices for mass casualties, that drills for it, but it's not level one and it's just one hospital. The contrast really couldn't be greater.

BLITZER: Talk a little bit about this type of ammonia gas that potentially could be deadly, but could cause some serious problems.

COHEN: Right. If you breathe in a high enough concentration of it, it can kill you very, very quickly. Hopefully what happened here was that the wind and the weather conditions made it dissipate. And so hopefully these people were breathing in lower concentrations and hopefully got to fresh air quickly - -

BLITZER: By the way, Air Force One is arriving here in Boston right now carrying the president, the first lady and several of their guests who will be coming to this interfaith service. Go ahead.

COHEN: If these people got out of there, got to fresher air, breathed in lower concentrations. We know some of them had eye irritation. They may have had nose or throat irritation, but hopefully nothing worse than that. If that's all it is they're not going to suffer long lasting effects.

BLITZER: The best treatment?

COHEN: The best treatment really is fresh air and water. There's no actual medicinal --

BLITZER: Drinking water?

COHEN: Drinking water to sort of flush it out, but there's no medicine. There's no antidote per se.

BLITZER: Elizabeth, thanks very much. Weather could be a factor in the search and rescue operation. Elizabeth Delgado, some severe weather actually coming in, right?

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: That's right. You know, we have seen some stronger storms moving across West, Texas. But right now, we're still looking at lingering showers across areas like West, Texas, as well as Waco. The winds right now 22 miles per hour.

As Elizabeth mentioned, yes, the winds were around gusty at times. That does help with the mixing. But the rain has really been the beneficial part, of course, helping with the fire burning there.

Now keep in mind as we go through the morning hour over about the next hour or two we will start to see more of those showers really coming to an end. The biggest change with the wind coming out of the northwest, that, of course, is going to send that wind flow down towards the southeast.

We're going to see a shift. You can still see a lot of that lightning has come to an end. We go through the rest of the day and it looks like we might be heading back over to Wolf.

BLITZER: Interrupt for a second, Jennifer. We're seeing the president now. Air Force One has landed here in Boston. We see the governor going up, Governor Deval Patrick to meet with the president and others who are -- who have come from Washington aboard Air Force One to participate in this interfaith service, it's called.

The official term is healing our city, an interfaith service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. It will be an emotional 60 minutes or 90 minutes with major leaders from various religions participating including musical collection performed by Yoyoma. We'll hear from the president and others. We'll continue our extensive coverage right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're looking at live pictures of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. Less than an hour from now this interfaith service will begin. The president of the United States with the first lady, they will be here.

They have landed. Air Force One has landed, here in Boston. They'll be coming over with a group of dignitaries. Several former governors of Massachusetts will also be in the audience including the former Governor Mitt Romney who will be here as well.

The service will include moving remarks not only from the president, but the Boston Mayor, Thomas Menino, the governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick. We'll hear from Cardinal Shawn O'Malley.

We'll also hear from religious leaders, local religious leaders, as well as this service begins. It is a time of healing in Boston, in Massachusetts, indeed in the country as we await the start of this service.

Chris Cuomo is over there at the cathedral getting ready to watch and to listen as all of us are -- Chris.

CUOMO: That's right, Wolf. As we wait for this to begin, at the same time there is a massive government investigation going on, trying to figure out who did this and why. Thirty government agencies, thousands of people working here and abroad.

We are taking two different angles on how the investigation is progressing. First we're going to go to Joe Johns who has the latest on what we're hearing from the head of Homeland Security -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Chris, this is an ongoing story that started sometime yesterday, and it's a question of whether authorities are going to release pictures that they've obtained and they deem important, including of a couple individuals.

And what we know is there is ongoing internal debate as to whether to release publicly these pictures in an effort to try to get the individuals in the pictures identified and, perhaps, talk with them.

They're not being described as suspects. Now, what we want to do is just go to a little bit of sound from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano talking about these issues that people in Boston are debating right now. Let's listen.


JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We have been collecting video from a variety of sources. As you might imagine at the finish line of the Boston marathon, there's -- there's lots and lots of video.

There is some video that has raised the question of those that the FBI would like to speak with. I wouldn't characterize them as suspects under the technical term. But we need the public's help in locating these individuals.


JOHNS: So typically in cases like these, of course, the big question is whether releasing video, releasing pictures of individuals at the scene of crimes will hinder or help the investigation. And certainly that is what's going into this right now. Authorities on the ground in Boston telling me no decision has been made, but they are weighing releasing the pictures -- Chris.

CUOMO: It's a tough question, Joe, because on the one side of the scale, you have -- it could be tremendously helpful. Someone could see them. There's a lot of speculation that whoever did this had been situated here for some time.

But on the other side, to falsely attach somebody to a crime of this nature would be so prejudicial. It's a very difficult call. Have to see what happens there. We're also going to go to Deborah Feyerick right now.

She's looking at the FBI's side of this and what they're trying to do to piece together who may have done this. Deb, what's the latest?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, one thing we do want to add to Joe Johns' reporting. One thing the FBI wants, they want to be able to identify these individuals on their own. That's always the preference in any investigation.

You don't release a photo until you've run everything else down and can't find them on your own. The FBI has, indeed, made progress on that front. I was talking to somebody, a source that receives regular updates on what's going on.

What I'm being told is that investigators are reviewing surveillance video not just from the marathon, but from the weeks before the marathon, the weeks leading up to that event.

They want to see if anybody walked the finish line route, whether anybody may have been casing it to see what was accessible, what was not accessible. Clearly, it's somebody who has been isolated from the crowd is seen in the week prior, clearly that would be a big lead.

Chris, what you've got is you've got teams of investigators. They are brainstorming every single possibility to see whether that might lead them in a particular direction. You know, they want to know, did the bombs go off as timed, as planned?

That would suggest was the person or persons, were they aiming for first responders or were they just targeting a soft target? So all those kinds of things that they look at. Also, they want to know, for example, were there people in the crowd, other people that are known as shadows, people who may have been communicating information.

That's why so many of these pictures, you know, you think about this huge montage of pictures, layer upon layer upon layer. That's what all the investigators are looking at. You've got also, Chris, the forensic teams. They're going through the evidence. They're look ageing at the blast patterns.

ATF, they're so good at explosives and trying to determine exactly where the bomb came from, the direction it took. That's crucial. We've been showing a picture of this bag, almost like a grocery bag that was on one side of the divider. Then it was moved to the other side of the divider.

People I'm speaking to, they're telling me stay away from that. That doesn't look right. Because the blast pattern if you look at the metal railing, it blows into the mailbox.

If that bag, that plastic bag, that paper bag had been the source of the device then the railing would have blown in the other direction. Again, they've got to look at everything and parse it out and think about rethink and figure out what each individual frame means. That's what's going on now. This is going to be an excruciating investigation -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Deb, thank you very much. At the same time that they're trying to find who did this, people are coming together here for an interfaith service called healing our city. We're looking at a live picture right now. Air Force One as President Obama and the first lady prepare to come and join the city for this service -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Chris. Standby. Let's get a little analysis as we wait for the president to walk down those stairs from Air Force One together with the first lady.

Joining us now, our CNN law enforcement analyst, the former assistant FBI director, Tom Fuentes and also joining us from the New America Foundation, the senior research fellow Philip Mudd, specialist on counterterrorism and intelligence formally with the CIA.

Tom Fuentes, first to you. Let's talk a little about this investigation. As the governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick said to me yesterday, we're all used to watching these kinds of dramas on TV whether "CSI" or whatever.

We expect very quick results. Doesn't always happen like that. This could take a while, this investigation, right?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: That's true, Wolf. You know, they want to be very meticulous and deliberative in how they put out information, especially public information about someone or someones that they're looking for to talk to. They've had problems in the past if someone's been characterized as a suspect either by law enforcement or by the media.

BLITZER: By the way, let me interrupt for a second. That's Mitt Romney -- Tom, hold on. Mitt Romney, the former governor, the former Republican presidential nominee, he's here at the cathedral of the holy cross for this interfaith service as well. Go ahead.

FUENTES: They want to make sure that they've released to the public information that won't interfere with the investigation and then also when they apprehend a suspect down the line and try to prosecute somebody, they don't want the case to be prejudiced.

If it turns out that the person is not involved in this, then they don't want to have an issue with that person being improperly or illegally characterized as a suspect in an investigation especially one of this magnitude if it turns out they were not involved in it.

So at this point they're being very deliberate to say these are a couple of individuals they would like to locate and talk to and try to get information, what they've seen more or less as witnesses. And they do not want them calmed suspects either by law enforcement or by the media.

That's why the reluctance on the part of law enforcement to publicly release the photos and the reluctance on the part of the media to not get caught up in releasing them.

BLITZER: Here comes the president and the first lady. They're walking down the stairs of Air Force One. They'll be coming over to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross here in Boston to participate in this interfaith service together with others, the mayor, the governor, and other dignitaries will be there.

As will religious leaders of the major faiths here in the United States. We'll keep these pictures up as we continue the conversation. Philip Mudd, this is an investigation that not only has to look at the possibility for domestic terrorism, but international or foreign terrorism as well. And it's a complex environment, but aided dramatically by all the video that has been made available.

PHILIP MUDD, SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: I think that's right. I think this is going to raise a debate long term in America like the debates we had on gun control in the wake of events that were so tragic in the past year or so.

People are initially going to say, look at the advantage you get in this 21st Century environment where you have surveillance cameras everywhere, an environment that the Europeans, by the way, are way ahead of us on. A lot more surveillance in Europe than there is here.

I suspect over the course of a month or two or three months Americans will step back and say that might have aided that investigation, but we're not sure we want to live in that kind of security culture.

BLITZER: And we can't draw, Phil, any hard conclusions about one of these bombs was in a pressure cooker. That's obviously available very easily. You can't draw any conclusions whether that's a signature of a domestic or a foreign terrorist.

MUDD: Actually, I would draw conclusions, but more about what it's not than what it is. When you look at the people I faced for a couple decades, that is terrorists inspired by al Qaeda, they, after 9/11 went to bombs that were much more sophisticated. Explosives were more sophisticated.

They received training that was pretty advanced. They selected targets that were harder than this target. I would argue more iconic. That is transportation targets that are recognizable worldwide.

In this case you've got folks who selected a very soft target, very primitive devices and a target that I don't think is iconic globally even though it is in the United States.

BLITZER: All right, Phil and Tom, both of you stand by. We're awaiting the president and the first lady. They're going to be heading over -- from Air Force One over to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. We'll watch the interfaith service in its entirety here on CNN. Our special coverage will continue right after this.