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Explosion in Texas; Two Men Sought in Boston Bombings

Aired April 18, 2013 - 15:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Incredible, the reverberations from this blast.

And search-and-rescue teams, they are combing at this hour, as they have been for hours and hours through all the debris from last night's massive explosion. The thing is, and this is difficult here as we're trying to report on the story, they don't have a firm handle on the number of missing.

The estimate is that between five and 15 people are dead. More than 160 are injured. But, again, those numbers are loose at the moment. The blast flattened homes up to half-a-mile away.

Take a look at this from our affiliate WFAA.


DAVID SCHECHTER, WFAA REPORTER: I want to say some of the devastation we're seeing now that daylight is out. This appears to be what was a home over here, completely just obliterated, smoking, charred.

If we keep moving around, I will show you over here, and you can see some remnants of the home. 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's melted off the side of this building. And some of this vinyl siding we can see about 20 to 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.


BALDWIN: I want to take you right to the ground to this small town, tight-knit town of West, Texas.

Joining us now on the phone is Tommy Muska. He's the mayor of west.

Mr. Mayor, welcome. I know it's been a very long night and a very long day so far for you. Do me a favor and just tell me do our numbers still hold, the 160-plus injured and the five to 15 fatalities? Is that what you have, sir?

TOMMY MUSKA, MAYOR OF WEST, TEXAS: We have about 162 in Waco hospitals, area hospitals. And unfortunately, the number will probably be a little bit higher than that. We still don't know yet. We are still accounting for people and we're doing that as we speak combing through the nursing home, the apartment complex as well as the actual plant itself where we had -- we know we had seven West firefighters and two other individuals.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Mr. Mayor, the governor, Rick Perry, still called this a search-and-rescue operation, which is significant, not a recovery operation. Haven't given up hope yet, but have you seen signs of survivors within this rubble?

MUSKA: No, sir. We have not, not this afternoon.

We still are holding out some hope, but right now we're just trying to get a hand around it and see and search all -- we have got dogs here and the Texas one and two search teams. And so we have got the best of the best looking, and that's what we -- I want to do, is I want to count up all my citizens and all my firefighters. And that's imperative right now to us.

BALDWIN: Mayor Muska, we have a number of correspondents there covering the story. Our own George Howell and his crew they actually found a staggering line of people lined up to donate blood. We have also read about these volunteers rushing to the scene last night.

This tremendous response to this disaster last night, does that sound like West, Texas, to you?

MUSKA: It is.

We had a nursing home that had about 133 patients and it was a block-and-a-half, two blocks away from the blast, and we had people in trucks and jeeps picking up people in wheelchairs, putting them in the back of the trucks and getting them out of harm's way.

That was going on for hours, and then just anybody -- everybody was trying to help. And we appreciate it. Right now, we have people from all over the state helping us, firefighters from other departments helping us. And so we have got kind of a handle on it, but it is the generosity of this community and this area to pitch in.

BALDWIN: We like to hear you're saying you have a handle on it here, Mayor Tommy Muska out of West, Texas, thank you so, so much, sir. And we're thinking about of course everyone in town, family, friends, first-responders. Thank you.


MUSKA: Thank you.

BERMAN: Again, this is a small town, as Governor Rick Perry said, everyone knows someone affected by this.

BALDWIN: Everyone's lives were touched by this disaster.

BERMAN: Absolutely. And again as the mayor just said, it's not clear how many people have been affected directly, how much survivors, how many injured or how many people have been exposed to this anhydrous ammonia, that's a gas used to make fertilizer at the plant, and its fumes can be very dangerous.

They can be suffocating and the gas can cause blisters and chemical burns if it mixes with water inside the body. According to "The Dallas Morning News," a report filed with a federal agency said the worst-case scenario at the facility would be a 10-minute gas release that would not hurt anyone.

CNN affiliate WFAA reports the plant was fined in 2006 for having an inadequate risk management plan.

BALDWIN: Back here in Boston, we have now just gotten word that the FBI, who we know has been leading this investigation into Monday's bombings, they will be holding a media briefing on the investigation this afternoon, in just a couple of hours from now, 5:00 Eastern time. We know the briefing didn't happen yesterday. We will be looking for that to happen in two hours from now.

Hundreds of investigators, they have been working around the clock in search for the person or persons responsible for this horrendous terror attack on this city. A law enforcement source telling CNN that they are trying to identify two men caught in surveillance photos moments before the blast there near that finish line.

The FBI, they need your help, but the photographs themselves are still being kept under close wraps. They are not being released to the public. I know there are a lot of photographs floating out there on Twitter, online, but they are not releasing them to the public. And so why, you ask? Because they are afraid that could hurt the ongoing investigation.

We're being told investigators, they are now ruling out people very closely, one by one, trying to narrow it down as they move down this list of potential suspects.

As for the bombs themselves, they have been sent to an FBI lab in Virginia, the bits and pieces you see here. Technicians at this hour are trying to reconstruct the devices to try to get any clues to find sort of the genesis of the maker and work backwards.

BERMAN: As this investigation continues in Virginia, all over the city, and then right behind us again where the crime scene is, today was a day to come together really in resilience after the terror, healing after the heavy loss and faith after evil showed its face.

Those are the themes of today's really remarkable interfaith service at Boston's Cathedral of the Holy Cross. It was called Healing Our City. President Obama honored the victims of the Boston bombings with really emotional testimony, emotional remarks. Listen.


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

That's what the people of Boston are made of. Your resolve is the greatest rebuke to whoever committed this heinous act. If 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 have picked the wrong city to do it.


OBAMA: Not here in Boston. Not here in Boston.

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


OBAMA: Like Bill Iffrig, 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 will pick ourselves up. We will keep going. We will finish the race.


BERMAN: We will finish the race.

I mean, this was a prayer service, a memorial service yet broken up several times by wild ovations. That gives you a sense of the spirit inside that building. The president honored all those who were lost, including victim Krystle Campbell, who was killed weeks before her 30th birthday.

He also spoke about Lu Lingzi. That's the 23-year-old woman from China who had recently moved to Boston to be a graduate student at Boston University to study math and statistics. She went with two new friends to see the Boston Marathon and she was killed.

And the president honored 8-year-old Martin Richard, the youngest victim of this awful attack. Obama spoke of Martin's wish written on a blue poster board, "No more hurting people, peace."

BALDWIN: You talk about getting emotional as a Bostonian the president speaking. For me, did you notice the young woman crying, fighting through tears as she was singing, a member of the Boston's Children's Choir? Just grabbed my heartstrings.

While so many people were at the ceremony there in Boston, they were there simply to support this community while others were there to pay their respects, to pray for loved ones who are still in the hospital healing today from the wounds caused by not just one, but two explosions here in town.


JOE CRAVEN, FATHER OF VICTIM: Our son was injured. He was injured in the first bomb, but he's doing well. Hopefully, he will get out of the hospital soon. He got hit with a lot of the shrapnel, the BBs, and shrapnel. And the surgeons had to take a lot of the stuff out of his head and nose and face.

NANCY RAVEN, MOTHER OF VICTIM: I really think it was just the whole tenacity of the people of Boston and how this is the whole country's tragedy and how he connected everyone together. I thought he did a beautiful job.


BALDWIN: So true, tenacity the perfect word here.

Let's go to Don Lemon. He's live in Boston as well.

Don, the consensus seems to be from the folks who were there, I know you were inside the church, the president's attendance meant a lot. His words were soothing. You were inside. What was it like, what did it feel like?

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I wish I could express in words, you know, Brooke, exactly what it felt like, on the verge of tears most of the time.

It was a very somber and moving service. I got to sit next to the families who have members who had died and family members who had been injured in this particular event, and I got a chance to sit next to some of the dignitaries and not far from the president himself. There was a point where the president even teared up during the service. The people who were there were happy that the president came, not only the president, but the governor as well, Deval Patrick.

And people from around the country came as well. Interesting enough, Bradley Cooper, the actor, was sitting not far from me. It was very well attended. I got to see big, sturdy guys broken, John, 6 foot tall, 6'4'', 6'5'' guys holding back tears, really, giving a stiff upper lip when the president said they messed with the wrong city and then the standing ovation.

But one of the most moving parts, to me, was from Nasser Weddady, who joins me now. He's from the American Islamic Congress.

I thought it was important, Nasser, because I thought you bridged the gap between foreign and domestic terrorism, about being someone who's a nationalized citizen and also having to deal with terrorism yourself. You were in Damascus as a child and experienced a car bombing and then now this particular experience. You just became a nationalized citizen.

NASSER WEDDADY, AMERICAN ISLAMIC CONGRESS: And even in between experienced the horror and the terror of 9/11.

For us, having the president come here and having Mayor Menino and Governor Patrick stand in a show of solidarity and unity was very powerful and strong message.

LEMON: Before you got up to speak, you got a chance to meet with the president and with the families?

WEDDADY: Yes, I briefly shook hands with the president and the first lady. I knew already Governor Patrick, and it was very a moving moment. It was a very solemn moment, actually.

LEMON: How did you prepare for this? Was it something you wanted to make sure you got across from your particular sermon?

WEDDADY: I think it was very hard to capture a lot of complicated feelings and emotions, and at times these feelings are raw and I had a very short time.

I guess that's the quickest shortcut was to speak from the heart, because today and since the bombing, all of us here in Boston, I think, need a hug.

LEMON: Yes. I think not only Boston, but the entire country needed this. So, again, thank you very much.

Brooke and John, it's a very moving service. Not just Boston, but the country needed to hear that and needed to grieve as well. The grieving is still going on here. It's not over yet, guys.

BALDWIN: Yes, just hearing his story, that really resonated, I think, when he was a young boy in Damascus and it just -- Monday brought him back into that day.

BERMAN: All the speakers, they really hit the right note for Bostonians. I grew up here, and for so many people, Boston itself is like a religion. And in some ways, this service was like a religious revival, and it was really a remarkable, special thing.

BALDWIN: Boston invented America, according to the governor here.

Coming up next, we want you to watch the right side of your screen, because the white car you will see here on this road, right there, isn't on such stable ground, because take a look to the left of it.

BERMAN: Oh, my goodness, look at that.

BALDWIN: Look at that, taking a huge tumble inside this massive sinkhole. Folks, this is Chicago. You see another car in there already, more on this stunning video out of Chicago next.


BERMAN: We have to show you some simply crazy video out of Chicago, which is right now under a flash flood watch.

There's this 40-foot-wide sinkhole and it's simply swallows two cars and it's not done yet. It swallows a third. A driver of one of those cars was injured. The sinkhole was probably triggered by this heavy rain there. Nearly seven inches have fallen on Chicago in the past 24 hours. These floods have caused -- closed several expressways in the area and some 400 flights in Chicago which is always tricky already canceled.

I want to bring in meteorologist Chad Myers and Jim Spellman right now standing in water in Elmhurst just outside Chicago.

Jim, this flooding pretty widespread there.

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's really amazing how intense the rain was and how quickly some of these neighbors flooded.

You mentioned almost seven inches of rain in 24 hours. They get just over three inches of rain average in the month of April usually in the Chicago area. Just too much for some of the ground to take.

You look around here, I'm right on the edge of it, only a few inches. There's about a foot there in the deepest part, much worse inside the homes. I got a chance to go into this brick home right down here earlier.

There's a refrigerator and a freezer bobbing in maybe three or feet of water, and it's already begun to recede. But they could get another inch of rain here later today and into the evening. With the water, with the ground this saturated, that could mean more flooding for these low-lying areas like Elmhurst -- John.

BERMAN: Wow, more water that they simply don't need. Thanks, Jim.


BERMAN: All right, we have some more dramatic pictures to show you coming out of Texas right now, really one of the major stories we're following today, this fertilizer plant basically transformed into a fireball.

BALDWIN: And it's this fire led to a major explosion that a passerby just happened to catch on tape.

The man who shot this video joins us live just ahead.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone.

Some pretty big news developments to tell you about. Just a short time ago in Kaufman County, Texas, a second capital murder charge was announced in the murders of two Texas prosecutors and one of their wives.


DAVID BYRNES, KAUFMAN COUNTY, TEXAS, SHERIFF: Today, we're announcing the arrest and charging of two individuals with capital murder related to the death of Mark Hasse, Mike McLelland, and Cynthia McLelland.

Eric Kyle (ph) Williams is being held in the Kaufman County jail on multiple charges, including capital murder, with the bonds totaling $23 million.


BERMAN: This is former Justice of the Peace Eric Williams who was just charged. His wife, Kim Williams, was charged with capital murder yesterday. She confessed to police that she helped her husband kill prosecutor Mark Hasse in January. You will remember Hasse was gunned down in broad daylight in front of a courthouse.

Now, Williams also told police she helped her husband kill district attorney Michael McLelland and his wife last month.

BALDWIN: And now to the suspicious letters sent to both President Obama and Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi. Here's what we know now. The lab results, they are due any moment to confirm the letters are, in fact, contaminated with that deadly poison ricin.

Initial tests indicate that, yes, they were. Police believe they have the guy that sent the letters. They charged Paul Kevin Curtis with threats against the president just a short time ago. Curtis was arrested at his home in Corinth, Mississippi, yesterday.

BERMAN: So, 46 senators voted no to expanded background checks, so the push for new gun controls, 125 days since the killings at the Sandy Hook school, is, for all practical purposes, dead, at least for now.

The legislation's co-sponsor, Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, vented his anger this morning towards the gun lobby and its supporters in the Senate.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: I can't figure out why you're afraid to do when the facts are in front of you to do what you got to do.

If you let me get in a debate with the NRA, and these are people I know, these have been people I have been very friendly with over the years, I think they made a big mistake.


BERMAN: CNN has learned that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is pulling the guns legislation from the Senate floor. It could be resurrected at a later date, however.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, we are expecting a live news conference out of West, Texas, on the developing situation there over the fire that led to this massive explosion at this fertilizer plant last night, 160-plus people injured, five to 15 fatalities. The search-and-rescue operations still under way. They are looking for survivors, including, they're hoping, firefighters, first- responders. Anderson Cooper has just touched down in Texas. He's going to join us live.

Stay right here.