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Blast Destroyed Homes Half Mile Away; Slow and Methodical Search; More Than 160 Injured in Texas Blast; Two Men Sought in Boston Bombing; Boston's Resilience

Aired April 18, 2013 - 13:59   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Jake Tapper, alongside Erin Burnett. This is CNN's special live coverage of several American communities recovering and healing today.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: That's right, Jake. Just when you thought something worse couldn't happen, it happened last night. Here in Boston, investigators are looking to identify people in pictures near the finish line just before Monday's explosions. And, of course, this comes as the president was here today, helping a grieving city say good-bye to those who lost their lives.

Also happening at this hour, investigators holding a news conference on the murders of a district attorney and his wife in Texas. We could see a major development in this case. Jake, as you know, has stymied investigators and caused a lot of fear in the law community.

TAPPER: We'll begin in Texas with search-and-rescue teams. They are combing through the debris in an incident at the explosion at the West Fertilizer plant. And I did say search and rescue. As the plant continues to smolder this afternoon, authorities are not ready to give up on finding survivors trapped in the rubble from the blast. It could be felt 50 miles away. We don't know yet how many people are missing, but they do include several members of the area's all-volunteer fire department. Scores of people were injured in the blast.

There's a heavy police presence, of course, in neighborhoods damaged by the blast. Only search and rescue teams are being allowed in. There's been one isolated report of looting and many, many reports of neighbors helping neighbor.

This all started when the fire broke out at the fertilizer plant in the tiny north central Texas town of West, population 2,600, last evening, right as people had wrapped up dinner. Some drove closer to the plant to watch. That's when it exploded.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you serious (ph)?






UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cover your ears.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't hear. Get out of here. Please, get out of here.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please, get out of here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're in (INAUDIBLE). We just saw an explosion on the horizon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need every ambulance we can get this way. A bomb just went off inside here. It's pretty bad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fifty to 75 houses damaged. There's an apartment complex that has about 50 units in it that was completely just skeletons standing up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The rest home has been seriously damaged. We have many people down. Please, please respond.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Getting you everybody I can. You have deputies, you have (INAUDIBLE) fire, you have EMS. I'm sending everybody I got.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the couch that I had been on when I came down, I looked at it, the couch wasn't there. It was rights in front of a big bay window and it was shredded from the glass from the bay window.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because it like picked you up. It just took your breath away. And then it dropped you. And it like -- it exploded everything around you. I mean gusts of wind. It was like a suction and then just blew it all out.


ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: One man last night told me, from a mile away, when it went off, it sounded like a bomb in his backyard. The mayor described it as a nuclear bomb. You just heard those first responders talking about EMS as a bomb. That was how it sounded to the people who were there.

And we're just getting the first up-close look at some of the damage that the actual plant blast caused in the town of West. You know, as we've been emphasizing, there was an immediate nucleus of the explosion, and then there was miles away, windows being completely blown off. David Schechter from our affiliate WFAA takes us on a tour through the devastated neighborhood.


DAVID SCHECHTER, CNN AFFILIATE WFAA REPORTER: I want to show you some of the devastation we're seeing now that the daylight is out. This appears to be what was a home over here. Completely just obliterated, smoking, charred. If we keep moving around, I'll show you over here, there's -- you can see some remnants of the home. There is - I want to watch out for this power line here. Watch your head here, Juan. Over here there's a hot water heater. And you can see the bathtub. This is, obviously, the bathroom of this home that is now gone.

The heat from this fire, or whatever, was so hot, over here on the side of this structure, which is still standing, this looks like fabric. This is, I believe, the vinyl siding that is melted off the side of this building. And some of this vinyl siding we can see about 20 or 30 yards away, you know, hitting that building over there. And I believe we're not that close to the blast zone. Probably at least a quarter to a half mile away.


TAPPER: That was David Schechter from WFAA.

CNN's David Mattingly is in West, Texas, as well.

David, do authorities have a handle yet on how many people might be missing?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, here we are about 17 hours after that blast, and the answer is, no. And there's a couple of reasons for that. First of all, there's search and rescue operations that are ongoing right now. You just saw how badly damaged the buildings are a good distance away from the blast site. Fifty to 60 homes, we were told, have been damaged. Roofs peeled back, walls collapsed. Some of these structures are just too dangerous for rescuers to go inside to conduct their search, so they have to be shored up before anyone can go inside. The last thing you want right now is further injuries from people trying to help others.

A second reason is, in the chaos last night, there were some people who were able to just leave the scene after the explosion. They were lucky enough to be able to flee on their own. There were others like the injured, the ambulances, the police that showed up there at the scene were just putting people, as many as they could, in the backs of these rescue vehicles to get them to safety and to get them to help. So it was difficult to account for everybody.

At this moment, no one is trying to give us any idea exactly how many missing there are, and they are emphasizing, Jake, this is still a search and rescue operation. Holding out hope that there are still people injured, possibly unconscious, and in need of help somewhere in that wreckage. TAPPER: David, this plant contained thousands of pounds of the chemical anhydrous ammonia. That, of course, is a very combustible element. Is there any concern about the chemical fumes still lingering?

MATTINGLY: Well, the short answer to that right now is, no. They really caught a break last night when this cold front came through with the wind and the rain, diluting the chemical property of the anhydrous ammonia and blowing it away out of the area. There is another tank of anhydrous ammonia there on site, and we're told that that tank is intact. We're also told that there's still some smoldering fires around in the area, but they are down. They are not quite out, but they are down. They are completely under control. And at this point, authorities are fairly confident that they have got both the fires and the threat of any further problems from this ammonia under control.


TAPPER: All right, David Mattingly in West, Texas, thank you so much.

BURNETT: Yes, that rain last night. And when we first heard about it, as this was happening, we thought that could be - they were worried that would be bad news and impede the rescue. And, of course, it ended up being one of the small miracles here.

The blast was so huge, we talked about how everyone's using the word bomb and nuclear bomb to describe it, the people there who were there who experienced it, and it set off seismometers. TAPPER: Seismometers.

BURNETT: Seismometers. Not an easy word, obviously, for me to say.


BURNETT: It measured 2.1, which is, obviously, well below even minor earthquake status, but still it's a shocking rumble nonetheless. But you could imagine - you could see --

TAPPER: For a fire, yes, it's incredible.

BURNETT: I mean it just gives you a sense when, you know, you think about a fertilizer plant or what plants are near you that you don't even realize are there, how significant they are. More than 160 people at this point we know have been injured.

Our George Howell is with us now at the Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center in Waco.

You know, George, last night I was talking to the president. He was kind enough, you know, every few minutes to come on and update us on how many people were coming in to try to seek emergency care. All in, how many people have come and what's the nature of their injuries today? GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Erin, and they're still doing a good job in that sense of giving us a lot of information as far as the number of people that they've treated. We know at this hospital alone they saw 101 patients, 101 patients at this one hospital. We know that at least 28 of them are still being treated. And here in the next couple of hours, we're expecting to get another update from this hospital. They are doing it to make sure that the community knows what's happening.

And there are many other hospitals, several other hospitals, for instance Providence Hospital took on 65 patients. Scott & White, nearby here in Temple, took on five patients. And even Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Texas, took on two patients. Parkland, by the way, has one of the best burn units here in the state.

But when you talk to the officials here about taking on, dealing with an incident like this, take a listen to what they had to say.


GLENN ROBINSON, CEO, HILLCREST BAPTIST MEDICAL CENTER: We are on alert because -- especially as the morning breaks, the rescuers are continuing to go through the wreckage and it would not be surprising at all, and hopefully we will find additional people that we can take care of. And so more than likely they would be brought here to our trauma center.

We are on standby, especially with (INAUDIBLE) coming up. Our trauma team is here, poised and ready to accept the additional patients that rescue teams might find and transport to our facility.


HOWELL: So, as this community and as these hospitals deal with what many people out here just simply describe as a difficult -- a scary situation, I want to show you one other thing that we saw, a line out the door at a blood bank here. Many people came together to give blood. And one person I spoke to there said that this incident has really brought this community together. So you find people trying to move forward after a freak situation last night, Erin.

BURNETT: George Howell, thank you very much, reporting from the Hillcrest Hospital.

And coming up at the top of the hour, we're going to be speaking with the mayor of West, Texas, Tommy Mouska. He's going to give us an update on the situation there. That's at 3:00 p.m. Eastern. And also want to make sure, you know, this is the man who called it -- said it sounded like a nuclear blast last night. That's next.

TAPPER: Resilience after terror. Healing after heavy losses. And faith after evil shows its face. Those were the themes of today's interfaith service at Boston's Cathedral of the Holy Cross. It was called "Healing Our City." That was the official name of the program. And music was a balm for wounded souls.

President Obama honored the victims of the Boston bombings with emotional remarks.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For millions of us, what happened on Monday is personal. It's personal.

Because that's what the people of Boston are made of. Your resolve is the greatest rebuke to whoever committed this heinous act. They sought to intimidate us, to terrorize us, to shake us from those values that Deval described. The values that make us who we are as Americans. Well, it should be pretty clear by now that they picked the wrong city to do it. Not here in Boston. Not here in Boston.

Yes, we will find you, and, yes, you will face justice.

Like Bill Iffrig (ph), 78 years old. The runner in the orange tank top who we all saw get knocked down by the blast. We may be momentarily knocked off our feet, but we'll pick ourselves up. We'll keep going. We will finish the race.


TAPPER: The president honored bombing victim Krystle Campbell, who was killed just weeks before her 30th birthday. He honored Lu Lingzi, a 23-year-old woman from China, who had recently moved to Boston for graduate school to study math and statistics. She went with two new friends to see the Boston Marathon and was killed. And, of course, the president honored eight-year-old Martin Richard, the youngest victim. The president spoke of Martin's wish written on a blue poster board, "no more hurting people. Peace."

BURNETT: Well, as the people here in Boston pause today, behind the scenes, the search for the person or people -- because we still do not know at this point how many people were involved -- that search continues. A law enforcement source telling CNN that hundreds of investigators are working around the clock, trying to identify at this point two men who have been captured in surveillance videos moments before the blast. Those pictures of these men also and apparently they were hovering near the finish line. Deb Feyerick is the one who's been breaking this part of the story.

And, Deb, how much do you know about these men? I know when you and I spoke at one point earlier, you said, well, they were looking at them as just people to talk to, but now they're more than that.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it's so interesting because this is such a fluid investigation and those photographs that generated so much interest yesterday amongst sort of the higher levels of intelligence, now we're being told that, in fact, they're moving down the list a little bit. Investigators have been searching through a number of images. Those were particularly interesting because the young men got to the race early, they were there towards the finish line as the race was ending, and they both had two different bags. But now we are being told that, in fact, where they were sort of high up at the list, now they are gradually being moved down, along with a number of other people. A man who was seen running immediately following the blast. Another man seen in the crowd with a backpack that looked eerily similar to the one in which one of the bombs were carried. All of them are slowly moving down the list.

What we're being told is that investigators are ruling out people one by one. This way they can narrow the search. There are some people who they are very interested in talking to, but those images have been less widely circulated. But the two young men, we've actually had one of our top people at CNN who has reached out to some of the folks who know one of those men and it looks like right now they were there because they were enjoying the race. Spoke to law enforcement, and, Erin, as you know, they say, look, everybody's a suspect until they're not a suspect. So while they're lower on the list, doesn't mean that investigators won't go back to them. But right now, there are other people that have taken greater priority, Erin.

BURNETT: All right, Deb Feyerick, thank you very much.

TAPPER: There are a lot of people in this town who have one simple message for whoever did this, they messed with the wrong city. That's what our next guest, a native Bostonian says, author Dennis Lehane who wrote "Mystic River" and "Gone Baby Gone." He joins us live.

Plus, of course, dangerous storms being blamed for this sinkhole that's swallowing up cars in Chicago. Folks there are dealing with widespread flooding, cancelled flights, and streets completely closed off. We'll be right back in a moment.


BURNETT: Perhaps the only thing that can match the pain the bombings left behind is the fighting spirit that has been a part of Boston heritage for more than 300 years. And one native son has expressed it in no uncertain terms in "The New York Times." Look at what novelist Dennis Lehane writes, and I'll quote him, "Bostonians don't love easy things, they love hard things -- blizzards, the bleachers in Fenway Park, a good brawl over a contested parking space," or parking space as the word might be, "two different friends texted me the identical message today," which was Monday," they messed with the wrong city." And Dennis Lehane joins us both now.

They messed with the wrong city. It sort of captures the flint and fire of this city.

DENNIS LEHANE, BOSTON FICTION WRITER: Yes, we don't mean that with false bravado. That's not macho posturing. That's not - it's any of that. The law enforcement is going to take care of this situation. We're fine. The issue is, you're not going to change us. You're not going to change essentially who we are. You're not going to change our love of civil liberties. You're not going to change our love of freedom. It's not going to change.

Next year, when this marathon goes off, I bet there will be twice the number of people. Nobody is going to back down. Nobody's going to say, oh, OK, well, here, take our civil liberty in exchange for a little security. It's not going to happen. TAPPER: But there is -- you do feel, in talking to Bostonians, people still are, and understandably so, on edge.

LEHANE: Absolutely.

TAPPER: There's still a crime scene behind us.


TAPPER: Still - the perpetrators are still out there.

LEHANE: Yes, absolutely.

TAPPER: Still a lot of people in the ICU. It's not as though you haven't been affected.

LEHANE: We've been completely affected, absolutely.

TAPPER: Right.

LEHANE: It's how about what you think or what you feel, it's about how you act. How are we going to act 362 days from now.


LEHANE: What is going to happen then. And I will bet money that this city says, yes, no, no, no, we're good, we got it. We'll do it exactly as we did last time. There might be a tweak here, a teak there, but I don't think we're going to be handing over, again, our liberties just because some very maladjusted, homicidal rage cases decided to roll a bomb into our marathon.

BURNETT: What is it about Boston? A lot of people, they aren't familiar with the city. I mean this is a city that is - while it's so deeply proud of its history, but it's also very close and - you know, it's a small city.

LEHANE: It's tiny. It's tiny. It's the size of Milwaukee. Nobody understands that. It's a really small town in a lot of ways. So - and we have terrible weather. We don't even have spring. I mean as you're seeing right now, there's no such thing as spring here.

BURNETT: Yes, that is an unfortunate thing.

LEHANE: We pretty much -- we go into summer, which lasts a week and a half, and then we go right back into autumn. And, I mean, we were Red Sox fans for, you know, 87 years waiting - you know, this is not a city that is waiting for the sun to come out, waiting for somebody to tell us how to feel, waiting for the easy life. We're not built that way.

TAPPER: And also, I mean, the character of this town has changed so much ethnically, whereas, you know, decades ago it was know -- I'm from Philadelphia, so it's kind of similar -

LEHANE: Right. TAPPER: Of white ethnic, catholic. It's changing a lot, but the spirit is the same, the same fighting spirit. I mean you picture it as like a southie (ph) kind of spirit. But whether - you know, you can be Croatian or Vietnamese, if you come here, you're going to adopt that spirit.

LEHANE: (INAUDIBLE). Yes. It seems to attract that type of person, I think. Yes, I think it seems to attract, you know - to make a gorse generalization. I worked with a lot of Brazilians when I used to park cars for a hotel right down the street from here, and all of those guys had four jobs. And they'd look at me and, you only got one job? What's wrong with you? You know, and there's that sense -- my father was like that. He was an Irish immigrant. But it seems to attract that kind of personality.

BURNETT: It's pretty amazing. And you said parked cars.

TAPPER: I know and that was very - that was -

LEHANE: Did I say park cars? Really? That slipped in there.

BURNETT: Yes, you did. You did.

TAPPER: That was a real - and you weren't even -

BURNETT: That was a Freudian slip.

LEHANE: I wasn't even trying. That's terrible.

TAPPER: Let me just ask you one question.


TAPPER: As an author, as somebody whose written some celebrated novels, who -- some have been made into some very fine films as well, "Mystic River," we were talking about this earlier, "Gone, Baby, Gone," -


TAPPER: "Shutter Island." Do you see this inspiring a future work?

LEHANE: Yes, somebody with distance and plenty of time to respect what happened here could make something out of it. I'm not that guy.

TAPPER: But, you -

LEHANE: I'm not that guy.


LEHANE: I'm not that guy. It's just -- you kind of know what your sweet spot is by the 20 years in the business. This is not my sweet spot. This is not something I would write about directly. I might write about it obliquely. I might write about it in an op-ed piece in "The New York Times," but I don't see writing fiction based on it.


TAPPER: All right. Well, it's a real honor to meet you. Thanks so much for coming in.

LEHANE: Hey, it was a real pleasure. Thank you so much.

BURNETT: Yes, it is. Thank you for coming. We appreciate it. And good to meet you.

LEHANE: Thanks. Thanks.

BURNETT: All right, well, to find out how to help those in need after the Boston bombings and the explosion, of course, in Texas, head to There is a lot of things on there that can help you help the people who need it.

TAPPER: And very soon we should be learning the test results from those suspicious letters sent to a senator, Roger Wicker from Mississippi, and President Obama.

Plus, we're awaiting a news conference - a news conference out of Texas on the murders of a district attorney, his wife, and another prosecutor that could be a major development in the case. That's all coming up right next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to CNN's continuing coverage of the Boston terrorist attacks and, of course, the explosions in Texas. I'm Jake Tapper, along with Erin Burnett. We're here in Boston. A quick update now on some other news developing at this hour.

First to those suspicious letters sent to President Obama and Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi. Lab results are due any moment to confirm the letters - and whether or not they were contaminated with the deadly poison ricin. Initial tests showed that they were. Police believe they have the man who sent the letters in custody. They charged Paul Kevin Curtis with threats against the president a short time ago. Curtis was arrested at his home in Corinth, Mississippi, yesterday.

BURNETT: Now, 46 senators voted no to expanded background checks. So the push now for new gun controls, 125 days after the horrific killings at Sandy Hook, is, for all practical purposes at this point, we're going to call it what it is, dead. Well, that's the situation here. The legislation's co-sponsor, Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, vented anger this morning towards the gun lobby and its supporters in the Senate.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: I can't figure why in the hell you're afraid to do when the facts are right in front of you to do what you got to do. If you let me get in a debate with NRA and these are people I know, these have been people I've been very friendly with over the years, I think they made a big mistake.


BURNETT: First, the whole - the whole argument was over whether having background checks would create a national registry, which the bill had said it categorically could not. CNN has learned that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is pulling the gun legislation from the Senate floor at this time. It could be resurrected at a later date. But for now, as we said, it's done.

TAPPER: Any moment we'll hear new details on the arrest and confession made in the murder of two Texas prosecutors and the wife of one of those prosecutors. The wife of former justice of the peace Eric Williams was arrested yesterday. Police charged Kim Williams with capital murder. According to her arrest warrant, she confessed to police that she helped her husband kill prosecutor Mark Hasse in January, then, she said, she helped him kill District Attorney Michael McLelland and his wife last month. Williams told police her husband was the triggerman in the murders. Authorities say Eric Williams apparently blamed McLelland and Hasse for getting him removed as a justice of the peace last year. Williams was arrested last week on a separate charge of threatening police who were investigating the killings. We'll take that live news conference right after this.