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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Flash Flood Warnings in Chicago Area; Investigators Pinpoint Two Men in Photo

Aired April 18, 2013 - 08:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to this special edition of STARTING POINT. I'm John Berman live in Boston this morning. We are following breaking news on many fronts. A nightmare in a Texas town this morning. Rescue workers going home to home, business to business, searching for people trapped and injured after the massive explosion at a fertilizer plant in the town of West, Texas, that's about 18 miles away from Waco. This blast so powerful, it registered as a 2.1 magnitude seismic event and wiped out everything for blocks.

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SGT. WILLIAM PATRICK SWANTON, WACO POLICE DEPT.: There are homes leveled. There are businesses leveled. He says it looks like when the blast occurred, that the concussion and the pressure impact, if that's the correct wording, literally destroyed homes in and around that plant.

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BERMAN: Initial estimates by police say as many as 15 people may have died, but those estimates very preliminary. Firefighter who's responded to the blaze that preceded the explosion could be among those killed. More than 160 people being treated at area hospitals.

We have two live reports from Texas this morning. George Howell is live in Waco covering the medical situation and Martin Savidge in West, Texas. Let's start with you, Martin in West. What is the latest there?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, John. Two significant events. One, of course, is daylight. Which will have a huge impact on the search and rescue effort. And then on top of that, some very stormy, heavy weather moving through. I want to bring in Patrick Swanton, he has been the public information officer, the face, if you will, of the disaster, speaking to the media. Let's talk about the impact of weather what is it on the search and rescue effort?

SWANTON: Obviously, we will continue through this. It may slow us a bit. On one hand it's a good thing. It could potentially help us with environmental issues, keeping particles out of the air, can help with the fire from different homes that were ignited during the blast as well. It won't stop us. It may slow us down, this will pass and we'll get right back at it.

SAVIDGE: Okay, and beyond the search and rescue effort here, you are having to deal with other factors. Daylight though, this has to help for the search.

SWANTON: Without a doubt. This will certainly be of benefit to the officers that have been out here all night. That are still going house to house, door to door, business to business, be a little safer for them as well. We have some homes that were completely destroyed. Meaning there was a huge environmental issue, nails, broken boards, splintered boards, can be a safety risk for those officers, firefighters, first responders, medical people going from door to door. This will be something that can help us in the sense of being able to see a little bit better and safely search the homes.

SAVIDGE: Lastly, we've had a stretch of 5 to 15 people reported as casualties. Why such an expanse?

SWANTON: Because it's so unknown at this point. We know that we have casualties. People asking to us put a specific on it. We just can't. I have heard anywhere from 5 to 15. A good, rough guess. We hope it doesn't go higher. The unfortunate (sic) side if this, as daylight is here, we'll be able to search better, get an assessment on what kind of damage was done and potentially any more casualties, fatalities we may find.

SAVIDGE: Any idea of the number of missing?

SWANTON: I don't know that. I know that we've had 160 plus that have been treated at local hospitals. We know we have several firefighters that are still missing. We have accounted for the law enforcement official in the hospital in critical condition. We're still looking for the firefighters.

SAVIDGE: Thank you very much. We appreciate it. Good luck to you.

Patrick Swanton is the face who's been informing us all along the way. He knows there is a difficult day ahead, John.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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.

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SAVIDGE: We deal with the injured, they have to find those who are unaccounted for, and most of all, this community knows, it's going to be getting a lot of bad news and it will probably spread by word of mouth, by one phone call at a time, because the first responders, the civilians, they are all known in this community, and any loss of any one of them will be felt by all. John.

BERMAN: A small town when you hear as many as 50 or 60 homes heavily damaged. Half the town had to be evacuated. Has to be such a blow to that community. And about those evacuated, Martin, more than 1,000 people, any sense where they might stay? When they might be able to get home?

SAVIDGE: Well, that's a very good question. For some, those who have had their homes devastated, leveled according to some city descriptions, they're not going to go home any time soon. Those displaced for concern of fire or fumes, that could change once the situation has stabilized. But I think it's safe to say that this is Texas, like in many parts of America, when disaster strikes, people come from all out to help and they also open their doors. There are evacuation centers that have been opened in Waco and elsewhere. There are people who were saying you will always have a place with us until you can get back on your feet, and that's just the way it is here, John?

BERMAN: More help on the way with reports from the Pentagon. Barbara Starr saying the National Guard on the way to help today. And again, as daylight breaks, we will find out more information, the scope of the damage in the town of West, Texas. Many victims from last night's blast have been taken to the Hillcrest Medical Center, that is in Waco, about 18 miles away. They were taken there for treatment. CNN's George Howell is there. George, what is the latest?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (vie telephone): John, yes. Here at Hillcrest Hospital, they saw the most victims. We talk about 101 patients we know of at this point. Five of them in intensive care. Two of them in critical condition we understand, and the other three described in serious condition. We heard a minute ago, that sound bite, where you hear the injuries we're talking about. We're talking about bruises, broken bones, and even respiratory issues. That's what we're dealing with at this hospital.

Providence Hospital saw 65 patients, that's another nearby hospital. And also Scott & White, which is the level 1 trauma center here, they saw five patients, we know two of them are children in critical condition and also we know that there are three adults, two in critical condition and the other is in stable condition we understand, and two people taken to Dallas' Parkland Hospital. Still unclear their condition at this point, but you add that number up right now, we know of 170 people rushed to hospitals. It's a fluid situation. We are starting to see daylight, investigators, go house by house, door to door, looking for people, looking for survivors, that number could certainly rise.

BERMAN: And, George, we're speaking to medical officials overnight. And they were talking about the range of injuries we were seeing. They were saying most were blast injuries, people affected from that giant explosion. Not many effects of what we were so concerned about, which was this ammonia. They said they saw some eye irritation, not much else besides that. Are you hearing anything different?

HOWELL: No. And again, aside form what we're hearing about dealing with respiratory issues, the threat about the anhydrous ammonia, I think it's a little less in that neighborhood, in that area. Because again, the winds have already come through, they've started on to contain, they have better control of the situation there, the fire, that was the big concern, John. That these winds would come in, the fire had not been -- -- wouldn't be under control and that would just spread around the area as the winds picked it up. Not the case right now. Not the concern, and, you know, priority number one for these guys, these investigators, is to go into these homes and look for survivors.

BERMAN: When we talk about the blast, though, the blast in and of itself, imply enormous, could cause it's own massive enormous devastation. A seismic event, registered 2.1. Could be felt for miles and miles around. Some people sent to the Parkland Hospital in Dallas. That's fairly far away, do you have a sense of why they were sent that far away?

HOWELL: You know, we're digging to get some information on that. The hospitals obviously, and as hospitals can be pretty tightlipped about, you know, conditions of their patients, so we are checking in, they are giving us updates as they get new information passed along to us. And we know here at this particular hospital, we should have a new update at 3:00PM central time, also know that Governor Perry will have a news conference on this whole situation later in the day. We are watching for those updates and news conferences to get more information. We are keeping on the phones also to get new information.

BERMAN: Okay. Excellent. George Howell at Hillcrest Medical Facility in Waco, Texas right now.

Let's go now to the White House. Brianna Keilar, we are following so many stories today as is no doubt the White House. The events going on in Texas, the events here in Boston, where the investigation into the deadly bombing attacks here continue, and the president is on his way to the city of Boston a little bit later this morning for an interfaith service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross where he will be speaking. Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He will be speaking, John, and we understand he will be giving a message of resolve. We heard him in recent days talk about just some of the moments that really think show, certainly as he has put it, that people should be defined by how they respond to a crisis like this, not by the crisis itself.

He's talked about people who have run the marathon and even after going through that grueling race, they headed to the hospital to donate blood so that they can be helpful to those victims. He's talked about that in recent days. We'll hear other examples where he highlights some of the heroic acts that we've seen. He will talk about a message saying that Americans shouldn't be deterred by these attacks and he'll certainly be expressing the support of all Americans for the city of Boston.

He'll be speaking about 11:00AM eastern, we're told and he will be there along with a number of dignitaries who have been invited. State and local officials, including a lot of local officials from the communities who, along that 26.2 mile marathon route, we're expecting will be represented. There will be first responders, they've been invited. A number of volunteers from the Boston Athletic Association, which puts together the marathon, And we also know from a couple of sources that Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the president's former opponent in november, is going to be in attendance as well, John.

BERMAN: All right, Brianna. Of course that service, that interfaith prayer service here in Boston begins at 11:00AM eastern time. CNN will bring you that live as it happens. Brianna Keilar, at the White House.

So much going on today. The investigation into the bombings, the interfaith prayer service. We will bring that to all of you.

Ahead, we'll talk more about the devastation in the town of West, Texas, after that massive explosion at a fertilizer plant. The fire is still smoldering, still a threat from the possibility of that ammonia substance there.

And then we have other information, an arrest following a ricin scare in the capital. What we know about the suspect that police say mailed poison letters to the president and a sitting senator. All of that, straight ahead. You're watching STARTING POINT.

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CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The National Weather Service has just issued a flash flood warning for much of the Chicago area. Jennifer Delgado has more from the Severe Weather Center. Jennifer, what can you tell us about these flash flood warnings.

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi Christine. Yes, we are talking but flash flood warning in place because three to five inches of rainfall is already coming down through parts of Chicago as well as various parts of central Illinois.

Now as we show you in the radar, you can see for yourself, for Chicago, yes, heavier bands are on the way. This is going to make certainly for a messy commute and -- and you can see more of that heavy rainfall is still out to the west.

Now what we're dealing with is a flash flood warning. This is in place until 2:00. Anywhere in red -- we're talking for Chicago, down to Quincy, anywhere in red -- that means if you are driving on the roadway, it doesn't take much of course to lose control of your car, so make sure you're taking extra precaution out there.

And also I want to talk about a big area that's going to be under the gun for flood warning. And then includes a good part of the Midwest. You can see even for areas like Kansas City, St. Louis, Indianapolis, so a lot of big cities are going to be affected by this. Again as I said we've already seen three to five inches falling in the last 24 hours for Chicago. So certainly a dangerous situation there. As we go throughout the afternoon we are setting up for another day of severe storms. A moderate risk category, that includes Chicago, Detroit, all the way down towards Memphis. And of course, we'll continue to follow the storms moving through parts of West Texas.

We'll send it back over to you, Christine. A very busy day weather wise as well.

ROMANS: Ok Jennifer Delgado thank you so much.

Let's head back to Boston now, where John Berman is standing by. Hi, John.

BERMAN: All right. Thanks so much, Christine.

So much news. New developments in what authorities are calling a possible breakthrough here into the investigation into the Boston Marathon terror attacks. The focus right now this morning is on two men, caught on surveillance cameras right near the finish line. Their pictures coming from cameras at a Lord & Taylor Department Store roof near the site of the second blast and also from a local television station.

Now in these images, one of the men is reportedly seen carrying a black backpack. You'll remember, three people were killed in these blasts of the 178 injured, 66 are still in the hospital; 13 still in critical condition.

Later this morning, the public will get a chance to gather, to pray, to grieve together at an interfaith prayer service here in Boston at the Cathedral at the Holy Cross. President Obama and the First Lady traveling to Boston later this morning. They will -- they will attend this memorial service, which will honor the victims of the bombings here in Boston. There will be other dignitaries there. Former Governor Mitt Romney, former Governor Mike Dukakis, Willy Well (ph).

Pamela Brown, CNN's Pamela Brown is live outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross right now with more on today's service. Good morning -- Pamela.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you John. Members of the public began lining up right outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross at around 4:30 this morning. That line continues to grow. It's several blocks down as far as the eye can see.

We spoke to members of the public in that line, people are here for different reasons, but there is a sense that everyone here is united in grief. Some saying they are hoping for a message of hope comforting words for President Obama. But everyone we spoke with says that they are here to show their compassion for the victims of Monday's tragedy and that is expected to be a big part of President Obama's message focusing on the victims and their families.

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, who is studying mathematics and statistics at Boston University. She was known as excellent student with a bubbly personality who had a love for the city of the Boston.

Lingzi joined three friends to the marathon Monday. She was standing at the finish line when the bombs went off. One of her friends suffered injury and was taken to the hospital. After that, a frantic search erupted on social media from friends looking for Lingzi reporting she was missing. That of course was followed by a wave of sympathy Tuesday after it became apparent she had been killed.

Her loss has sent shock waves throughout the BU campus which has a strong international community. Here is what one student who helped organize a memorial service for Lingzi had to say.

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JACK CAO, STUDENT: She is just like one of us. I am a student from China. I am a master -- I'm a grad student here. So I was just think if I was killed in this bomb, 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 would feel, how my parents will feel.

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BROWN: Students at Boston University we spoke to, calling Lingzi's death devastating. Some are seeking counselling after her death and also we have learned this morning that Lingzi's parents may be en route to the U.S. from China and that they received an expedited visa, that's according to a State Department source.

Now along with Lingzi, we're expected to hear from President Obama talking about the other two victims that were killed, 29-year-old Krystle Campbell and eight year-old Martin Richard, really the face of this tragedy who has captured the hearts of so many people.

President Obama will not only talk about the victims also the first responders who were there during Monday's tragedy. So we are expected to hear a strong message from him, a message of compassion.

BERMAN: All right, Pamela Brown, thanks so much from the Cathedral of the Holy Cross where that interfaith prayer service will begin at 11:00 Eastern Time. The President will be there leaving Washington shortly for the service. Just one of the events we are covering today.

Again there is so much going on in the world. We've been covering the breaking news all morning from that town of West Texas about 18 miles away from Waco. The massive explosion at a fertilizer plant there. Ammonia gas, possibly a threat still, the fire smoldering in this town still. The search and rescue continues, we'll bring you the latest, when we come back.

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ROMANS: Good morning welcome back to STARTING POINT. Some other stories we're watching this morning. New developments in the ricin scare in the nation's capital. A suspect is under arrest, he's been identified as Paul Kevin Curtis of Mississippi. Police believe he sent the letters addressed to President Obama and Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker. Letters that were intercepted at a mail processing facility after tests indicated the presence of the deadly poison. The letters are now undergoing additional testing.

Also this morning North Korea now threatening quote "Sledgehammer blows" to the U.S. and South Korea unless a list of demands are met. The North says it will only sit down to talk if U.N. sanctions are lifted. Also the U.S. must stop military drills in South Korea and apologize. South Korea calls these demands preposterous.

Back to you now John in Boston.

BERMAN: Thanks so much Christine. That is all for STARTING POINT. Please stay with CNN for continuing coverage of all today's events, the fertilizer plant explosion in West Texas, of course. We will bring you the latest from there and stay with us for special live coverage of the interfaith prayer service in Boston. That begins at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time.

NEWSROOM continues with our special coverage right now.

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WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Good morning. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Boston with special coverage of a truly remarkable morning of news. We'd like to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

We have two major stories we're following right now. First, a truly disastrous morning near Waco, Texas; an explosion there in Texas.

Second, the President of the United States, President Obama, he's about to arrive here in Boston, as we get ready for a memorial service, honoring the victims. Those who died, as well as those who suffered in this horrible Boston Marathon bombing. That will begin shortly.

We're following also the investigation behind this terror.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How are you, Wolf? It's good to be with you today. We are going to start with what's going on in West, Texas.

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