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Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion; Obama Heads to Boston Today; Investigators Pinpoint "Possible Suspects"

Aired April 18, 2013 - 06:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: That explosion in West, Texas, at a fertilizer plant so powerful it was measured and registered as an earthquake. That's how powerful it was, following a massive fire there, ongoing situation.

Dozens of people feared dead. Hundreds, over 150 people injured, being sent to local hospitals. Still much unknown about what's going on in West, Texas, as the fire fight on to get it under control.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Listen to the description on the ground.


TOMMY MUSKA, MAYOR, WEST, TX (via telephone): The ball of fire, went up and looked like a nuclear bomb went off. Big old -- big old mushroom cloud.


BERMAN: Dozens of people here dead perhaps. Hundreds more injured, being treated right now at hospitals and officials concerned about a potentially deadly gas they worry could be circulating in the air.

CUOMO: Back here in Boston where we've been live with our continuing coverage, all of the attacks at the Boston marathon, two possible suspects, the language investigators are using. They say they are focusing on two men seen near the finish line just seconds before the fatal blast.

All right. Welcome back, everybody, to a special edition of EARLY START. I'm Chris Cuomo.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. We're here in Boston where we're covering the aftermath of the bombing at the Boston marathon.

So much news going on right now around the country.

CUOMO: Right. Today will be an important day here in Boston because the president is coming with the first lady to have interfaith service. Part of the healing as the investigation continues.

But on this morning, the breaking news that has the most urgency is, of course, what's going on in Texas. We've been following it since it started last night. But this morning, it's still ongoing.

BERMAN: Search and rescue operation under way in this small town. It is named West -- West, Texas. It's about 18 miles away from Waco, Texas.

There was this massive explosion at this fertilizer plant last night. So strong it registered as a seismic event of 2.1 magnitude. Authorities say homes leveled, businesses leveled. Right now, police estimate between five and 15 people have died, but they may totally clear that these estimates are preliminary.

They could grow. They simply have no idea. They won't have an idea until daylight there.

CUOMO: Area hospitals have already seen over 150 people, some children and adults. A handful right now are in critical condition. The good news would be from the ground that they believe they are getting the fire under control, that there is a second tank there that they're worried about exploding. Right now, they say that risk has decreased somewhat. There's less flow of injuries. But again, the search and rescue still ongoing there.

The scene itself being treated ad as a crime scene. We're told, straight precautionary. No reason to believe foul play at this time. No real investigating of cause either as they're too busy fighter the fire.

BERMAN: Being treated as a crime scene until they know for sure that it was an industrial accident. Right now they're saying that the first responders right now there on the scene, they are still among the missing. Three to five firefighters who responded to the first fire which happened just after 7:20. They were on the scene when that second explosion happened about 25 minutes later.

CUOMO: Very big situation being dealt with by a very small community. Less than 3,000 people there. They only had three ambulances to their own disposal so they had to call out for help from nearby Waco, Texas, a much bigger municipality. The help luckily came very quickly. Adding the first responders on the scene. They said made a big difference in dealing with the casualties.

BERMAN: We are waiting a news conference from the mayor of the town of West, Texas. His name is Tommy Muska. We believe he is about to start speaking to us, giving us an update of the situation there.

I was speaking to him earlier. He said it has been a frantic, frantic night. But one of the things that's interesting that they do say is at this point, as the night has progressed, they have enough emergency personnel on the ground to help out in is the mayor speaking right now, Tommy Muska.

MUSKA: I'm going to give a brief statement on the activities over the last 12 hours. Approximately 7:30, the West fertilizer plant was on fire, fully consumed. And the West volunteer fire department responded. Approximately 7:55, the plant exploded. Approximately 50 to 60, five-block area, radius, houses were damaged, heavily damaged. West West Haven, located a couple of blocks from the fertilizer plant, was in the process of being evacuated due to the fire when the explosion occurred. The rest home, nursing home, has evacuated and taken all their patients out to safe locations.

All residents in that area have been evacuated and are in a safe location. I do not have an exact number of casualties at this time, or hurt. We took over 160 to a Waco hospital, to area hospitals, for treatment. Search and rescue teams have been working through the night combing the west West Haven as well as the fertilizer plant and also a thorough check of the neighborhood. That is continuing as we speak.

For those who are missing a loved one or need information, we will have a line set up at the west community center. That's 254-826-4115 at the west community center after 9:00 a.m. We will have another press conference at 4:00.

Thank you. And I ask for your prayers.

REPORTER: Mayor, what do you say --


CUOMO: All right. That's the mayor there taking questions now for the media. He's leaving to get back to a very urgent situation. The numbers say about the same, fluid search and rescue ongoing. Over 150 people have been treated at local hospitals. Not necessarily admitted. Also good news.

A little bit of more hopeful information for people in the area, nursing home, we seen as being under risk, the mayor says it was evacuated. Everybody is safe. However, 50 to 60 homes heavily damaged in this community.

BERMAN: Heavily damaged.

Earlier, we heard from officials who said homes leveled and some businesses were simply leveled. And again, this is all happening as a severe weather threat is coming at this hour with strong winds that could affect the area.

We're talking about minutes away. They're talking about gusts upwards of 40 miles an hour.

CUOMO: They're going to have to see what it is.

For some perspective of what the weather could mean, let's go to Jennifer Delgado -- Jennifer.

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi there, Chris. Hi there, John. We are tracking.

And this is going to be arriving very shortly into the Waco-West, Texas area. You can get an idea of yourself. Here is that line of showers and thunderstorms. Very close to this region.

Now, the winds right now gusting at 25 miles per hour, coming out of the south. That means blowing the wind and fume up towards the north. Change is going to happen all due to the line of the storms that are now moving out of the severe thunderstorm watch box area, but still, nonetheless, as that storm makes its way over towards the East, it's going to be bringing with it lightning as well as hail and this is going to be dangerous for those people who are without a home, first responders out there, even reporters and everybody standing out there, this line of storms coming through can potentially be dangerous.

Now, what we're going to see as we track if this for you. To give you a better idea, now, keep in mind we are talking Central Times. As that line of storm makes its way over towards the East, we're talking very close to about 6:20 even sooner than that.

As we go throughout the day, the winds are going to be the big factor. The winds are going to be gusting at times up to about 35 miles per hour throughout the afternoon. Well, imagine then if you were the firefighters out there trying to contain this fire. This is going to potentially move the direction of the fire as the winds will be coming out of the northwest, blowing the fumes and the smoke down towards the Southeast. That is going to be certainly a big concern. And right now, temperatures are in the 70s.

As that front pushes through, by tomorrow morning, those overnight lows are going to be just above freezing. Now, keep in mind with people not having homes and things like that, that's going to make the situation even worse. John, Chris, we are talking sunrise at 6:55. So, that is going to be the crucial hour we start to get a better scene of what is happening on the ground.

CUOMO: So we're going to have two layers of affect here. Jennifer, thank you very much.

DELGADO: You're welcome.

CUOMO: We'll continue monitoring the situation with you. What it does in terms of the fire, the moisture and wind, and also, it's just going to be very tough on those first responders to deal with dropping temperatures and all this weather.

BERMAN: Obviously, a very fluid situation happening overnight, affecting down in West, Texas, right now. This is so much else going on in the country including here in Boston, the aftermath of the terror attack

What has the president been told to this point, how is the White House responding?

Let's go to Brianna Keilar right now at the White House.

The president has been briefed on this situation right now?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John, we know the White House is aware and monitoring this. It's very likely that the president was briefed on this. If he wasn't actually woken up and told about this, we would expect that certainly by this point he is aware of it.

But the White House itself is certainly aware and monitoring this situation. They are in touch with FEMA, I'm told by a White House official, and at this point we're obviously awaiting to see if there may be some responses.

You know, President Obama will be heading this morning to Boston for the interfaith memorial service there.

So, he has a number of things on his plate. Obviously, he's heading out soon. And we're waiting to see any further reaction here from the White House -- John.

BERMAN: Brianna Keilar, thank you so much. That service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross here in Boston, just a few blocks from where I'm standing in the south end, that 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time.

Brianna Keilar, our thanks to you.

CUOMO: We're going to take a break. When come back, we're going to have more from the scene of that deadly fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. Dozens of people may be feared dead. It's a very fluid situation.

Search and rescue is ongoing. They have bad weather coming their way. So, the battle continues down there.

BERMAN: And then live here from Boston, we will have the latest on the investigation here into those bombings on Monday at the marathon. We'll tell you more about those new pictures that could lead to new leads.

Special edition of EARLY START continues right after the break.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMAN: New information in this past hour in this breaking coverage we're doing of the massive explosion at a fertilizer plant in the small text town named West. It is just north of Waco.

At this time, officials believe the five to 15 people have been killed. That's a preliminary estimate right now. There could be many more fatalities.

They also confirm that as many as five firefighters who responded to the fire at the plant, as many as five firefighters are missing at this hour and more than 160 people there have been injured.

CUOMO: You have to remember, it's a community is less than 3,000 people. When they say 50 or 60 of their homes are heavily damaged, that's a big slice of their community. Now, as we're monitoring what's going on in Texas, we're also obviously here live in Boston. We have news of what could be a big break in the marathon terror attack. Investigators use surveillance video say they have pinpointed two men near the finish line. They are calling them possible suspects. For the latest on what's going on and what we understand of the situation, let's go to national correspondent, Susan Candiotti, who has the latest -- Susan.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Chris. Good morning to you. You know, for days now, we've been hearing about how investigators have been pouring over all kinds of videos and still photographs looking for any people that they might want to talk to, that might possibly have something to do with what happened, that terrible, terrible terrorist attack here.

Now we have word of what we're being told is high interest and a couple of people, in particular. Now, any videos or still photographs that you're going to see while I'm talking now on the screen are not, repeat, not the images that we're talking about right now. We are not showing the images that we're discussing because we've been asked not to by law enforcement so as not to possibly jeopardize the investigation.

However, I'm told by federal law enforcement official with knowledge of this investigation that they're trying to locate two people in particular because of this. Number one, because of the timing that they're seen around the finish line, just before the bomb blast went off. The two bombs went off. And secondly, it's because of what they are carrying with them.

They are carrying, and I've seen the two images, what appears to be a dark-colored backpack and another one, a dark bag -- another bag of some kind. And so, that is why authorities say they have high interest in them and they're sending out a memo and they've sent these images to law enforcement agencies literally around the country and they're asking them, telling them the attached photos are being circulated in an attempt to identify these individuals.

Now, I am told that they don't have the names of these people at this time, but they're trying to find them in case they have some information they want to talk to them about, just to see whether they have any -- what reasons they had for being there at the minimum. So, Chris, we thought we might be hearing more about this during a press briefing that had been scheduled yesterday.

As you know, it was scheduled, then it was postponed because of an unrelated event at the courthouse, and then rescheduled, and then finally canceled. So, we'll see later today, Chris, whether we will get additional information about this on an official basis from investigators here. Back to you.

CUOMO: All right, Susan. Best use of time for the investigators, obviously, to move the investigation. They can talk to the press whenever they want. Thanks. We'll be back to you later in the morning. BERMAN: And obviously, as this investigation happens, as they get closer, hopefully, to finding out who pulled this bombing off last night, people in this community are already beginning to gather to grieve and to heal. Among those attending an interfaith service later this morning, President Obama. Pamela Brown is at Boston's Cathedral of the Holy Cross nearby in the sound end (ph). Good morning, Pamela.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, John. President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, expected to arrive here at 11:00 this morning. Also in attendance, former governor of Massachusetts and former presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, who was invited by Massachusetts governor, Deval Patrick.

The president's message this morning will be one of resolve, a shared commonality the American people with the people of Boston. Also, the focus will be on the victims, those who suffered and those who lost their lives during Monday's tragic attack. Late yesterday afternoon, Boston University officially released the name of the third victim killed.

A 23-year-old graduate student and Chinese national by the name of Lingzi Lu (ph). She was standing at the finish line with three friends when the bomb went off. One of her friends suffered injuries and was taken to the hospital. A frantic search erupted on social media from friends looking for Lingzi followed by that attack and that was followed by a wave of sympathy Tuesday after it became apparent that she had been killed.

Her loss has sent shockwaves throughout the BU campus which has a strong Chinese community. Here's one what one student who knew of Lingzi had to say.


JACK CAO, STUDENT: She's just like one of us. I am a student from China. I am a grad student here. So, I just can't imagine if I was killed in this thing, because I was really close to that bomb blast. I was like 200 meters away from it. So, if I was the one, how my friends will feel, how my parents will feel.


BROWN: And we have learned that several BU students have seeked counseling, following Lingzi's loss. Also, there will be an official memorial service on the BU campus tonight at :00. Again, President Obama will be here at 11:00 this morning. He will focus not only on Lingzi but also the other two victims who lost their lives, 29-year- old Krystal Campbell and eight-year-old Martin Richard, the face of this tragedy.

People have been lining up very early this morning. It's a long line already couple of blocks down from the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. We can expect this line to continue to build throughout the morning leading up to the president's arrival at 11:00 a.m.

BERMAN: Pamela Brown, thank you so much. Of course, first come first serve basis here. You're going to want to stay with CNN for the president's arrival and that interfaith service again which happens at 11 o'clock a.m. eastern time.

That going on as we continue to bring you the latest information on this massive explosion in the town of West, Texas at a fertilizer plant. Homes leveled, businesses leveled. We'll give you the latest right after the break.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

CUOMO: We have new information in the past hour in our breaking news coverage of a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant in the small Texas town of West, just north of Waco, Texas. At this time, very fluid situation. Officials say they do believe they are getting the fire under control. There are estimates of lives lost here that range from five to 15, but very early.

Search and rescue still going on. Even though it's a small community, they say as many as 50 to 60 homes heavily damaged, people unaccounted for, firefighters unaccounted for who came, John, responding to deal with this first fire at about 7:30 last night. Massive explosion, so powerful registered as an earthquake.

BERMAN: More than 160 people have been injured. They're being treated at a number of local area hospitals right now. First responders conducting search and rescue operations. It's still dark right there. They're expecting a massive weather front to come in that will complicate things with heavy, heavy winds as well.

CUOMO: Had to evacuate the nursing home there. Everyone is safe. Now, the big challenge, weather is coming. It could be 30, 35-mile- an-hour winds, precipitation dropping temperatures. Unknown what that means for fighting the fire, but definitely will be difficult on those first responders.

BERMAN: We are covering every development down there. Meanwhile, there is a lot of other news going on. Let's go to Christine Romans for that -- Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, you too. We're following this this morning.


ROMANS (voice-over): A Mississippi man is under arrest in connection with a ricin scare in the nation's capital. Letters addressed to President Obama and Mississippi senator, Roger Wicker, were intercepted at a mail processing facility after tests indicated the presence of a poisonous substance. The letters are now undergoing additional testing. The president was informed of the situation.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Any time a suspicious powder is located in a mail facility, it is tested. And I would underscore that the mail is screened. The mail sent here is screened and that these tests are undertaken at remote sites to mitigate the risk both to those recipients and to the general population.


ROMANS: The FBI says results of the additional testing on the envelopes could be known later today.

Texas authorities could file more charges today in the case of three high-profile killings that disgraced former justice of the peace and his wife are in jail in Kaufman County. Authorities say Kim Williams (ph) confessed to her role in the shootings of a prosecutor, a D.A., and his wife. And claimed her husband, Eric, was the trigger man in all three.

She's charge with capital murder. Eric Williams is in jail on a terroristic threat charge but that could be upgraded. Investigators say an e-mail threatening more attacks was traced back to him.


ROMANS (on-camera): That certainly was a mystery that investigators had been trying to solve for some time now. Let's go back now to Chris Cuomo and John Berman in Boston.

BERMAN: Thanks so much, Christine. As we said, so much news going on this morning. And ahead on "Starting Point," we will cover it all, including daylight in West, Texas. It will reveal the full extent of the damage caused by that massive explosion at a fertilizer plant there. Officials fear dozens may have been killed. Very preliminary right now.

CUOMO: And here in Boston, investigators say they are now focusing on two possible suspects in the bombings at the Boston marathon.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

CUOMO: And I'm Chris Cuomo here in Boston, part of CNN's continuing coverage of the attacks at the Boston marathon.

BERMAN: We're following two major developing stories this morning. First, breaking news overnight. A fertilizer plant explodes in the town of West, Texas, leveling surrounding homes. At least five to 15 people dead, more than 160 injured, thousands of people evacuated, and rescue crews still searching for the missing. And the threat, you know, is not over yet as dangerous gas may still be in the air.

CUOO: And explosion followed that fire.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's horrific. Some of the things that I've been told, some of the things I've seen are unbearable.


CUOMO: This is a small community. Less than 3,000 people, but they are fighting their best. They have the fire somewhat under control. The surrounding town of Waco helping out. We've been getting updates throughout the morning. Search and rescue, as we've said, very active there.

BERMAN: Expecting a live update from the scene in West, Texas, at any moment.

Meanwhile, here in Boston where we've been the last few days, this investigation here does continue and what's being called by authorities as a possible breakthrough in the bombing case. Investigators right now looking into two people who they say may be connected. This all happening as the president prepares to attend an interfaith prayer service here this morning.

CUOMO: All this news going on, on this morning, Thursday, April 18th, this special edition of "Starting Point" begins right now.