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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Surreal And Extensive Damage; Volunteers Assist Tornado Recovery; Cleveland Kidnapper's Dogs; Communication Gap?; Powerball Rising; The Taste Of Freedom

Aired May 17, 2013 - 07:30   ET

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


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JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. Great to see you. I'm John Berman.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Christine Romans. It's Friday morning. The search is on this morning for seven people still missing after devastating tornadoes touched down in Texas. Of those who live in the hardest hit neighborhoods aren't even being allowed back to survey the damage right now. People who have seen the scope of the damage firsthand are saying this morning it's surreal and extensive.

CNN's Victor Blackwell is live in hard hit Granbury, Texas. As the sun comes up behind you, you can just -- you really get a picture of how these 16 tornadoes skipped through North Texas and just left this path of devastation.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine, the second sunrise and as you said, this search continues. We want to be clear about this because we have spoken a lot about the devastation in Granbury specifically the neighborhood of Ranchos Brazos. But the tornadoes touched down in other areas.

In Millsap, which is a small town not far from here and Cleburne, there is a lot of damage as well. But the six people who died in this storm, in this series of tornadoes all in that Rancho Brazos area. We're told by the sheriff that the rescue task force continued to search overnight more of a recovery now actually and then a rescue.

That will continue throughout the day. We saw those numbers signifying the search had been completed and what had been found we've seen in other storms. But in this area, one thing that stood out is that the devastation was everywhere. Not skipping a house and one stands without damage and the next house is completely gone, but all the houses had some damage, most of it severe.

ROMANS: Just looking at the pictures behind you it's incredible. What can you tell us about the six people, Victor, who died in the storms.

BLACKWELL: We just received their names and their ages as well. What's remarkable about that is that most of them are seniors, as old as 82 years old, one person in their 30s. We are still learning more about who they were. But we are learning that they were mostly elderly people questioning maybe if they were sick and shut in and could not get out. So the search continues and the work to clean up, as you can hear in the background is starting as well.

ROMANS: All right, thank you so much, Victor Blackwell, for that report. We'll continue to check with you this morning. You know, it's so interesting when you look at the satellite image of the storm. You know, it spanned -- wow, look at that, North Texas.

This image was reportedly taken about 20 minutes before a twister hit Granbury. It measured about a mile wide. It is one of at least 16 twisters that touched down. It's interesting what Victor said about not necessarily skipping as you often see sometimes the storms do, but barrelling through the region.

BERMAN: You know, that looks like an angry storm. Even to someone who's not a meteorologist. Look at these pictures of the damage it did on the ground itself. You can see debris up there in the electrical wires and telephone poles, people simply picking through debris there.

Dozens of homes in the affected area, they were built with the help of Habitat for Humanity. Many of those homes are now damaged beyond repair. Mario Flores is the director of Disaster Response Field Operations for that organization. He has been on the ground since yesterday afternoon.

Thank you so much for being with us, taking time out of your busy and important job this morning to speak with us. I'm wondering if you can you describe to me what you have seen walking through these neighborhoods?

We are having some trouble hearing you, Mario. Let's pause for a moment. Hopefully our crews can get the microphone working. We'll tell you again what we are seeing on the ground there just to update everyone on the scope of the damage here. Seven people still missing and people today are having to deal with the wreckage, picking through their homes.

And this community is a large part of this community is for Habitat for Humanity community and Mario Flores is there to help those people piece their lives back together. I was asking you, Mario, what you have seen since you have been on the ground.

ROMANS: I think he's having trouble hearing us. You know, we are looking at the pictures. There are six dead, seven missing. You can see in the moments before the tornado struck Granbury, just how large this system was. Just how devastating the potential in the clouds.

Victor Blackwell was reporting that quite frankly this wasn't a series of storms just skipping through North Texas, it was almost barrelling through. He said what he's seeing on the ground are homes, all of them with some sort of damage sustained. Some destroyed, but nothing really unscathed. This is really are recovery operation now. They are trying to pick up the pieces and clean things up.

BERMAN: We'll get back to Mario as soon as we get the technical issues fixed.

ROMANS: All right, other headlines we're watching this morning. We are learning more about Cleveland kidnapping and rape suspect Ariel Castro. He apparently likes dogs. Last night, Cleveland reporter Ed Galek told CNN Piers Morgan about a Chihuahua that was found in the car the night Castro was arrested.

Two other dogs, terrier poodle mixes were found inside Castro's house. The FBI is asking the Cleveland dog warden to hang on to the animals. They want to see if the women who were held hostage would like to claim them as pets. Donations are pouring in to a new trust fund to help Gina Dejesus, Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and her daughter. The fund established by Cleveland city council members has already taken in more than $480,000.

BERMAN: CNN has learned that U.S. Marshalls lost track of two former members of the Federal Witness Security Program who were identified as known or suspected terrorists. According to a Justice Department report one of the former witnesses is now known to be living outside the United States. The other one is believed to be out of the country right now.

The report says the Marshal Service failed to inform authorities who run the no-fly watch list about suspected terrorists within the witness program potentially giving them access to commercial flights across the United States.

ROMANS: Tissue alert. Check out this dad who secretly returned from serving in Afghanistan to surprise his little girl right after she throws out the first pitch at a Tampa Bay Rays game. He's the catcher. Elena Adams thought there was something weird about the way he caught the ball. Then Lt. Colonel Will Adams lifted his mask. He was in Afghanistan for a couple of years. Tears flowed after that pitch. Rays fans gave the family a standing ovation. Can you imagine?

BERMAN: Just a beautiful thing. We want to go back to Granbury, Texas, to speak with Mario Flores. He is the director of the Disaster Response in Field Operations for Habitat for Humanity International. So many homes in that community were built with the assistance of Habitat for Humanity.

Mario, you have been on the ground for a while. I wonder if you can give us a sense of what you have seen.

MARIO FLORES, DIRECTOR OF DISASTER RESPONSE FIELD OPERATIONS, HABITAT FOR HUMANITY: Yes. Thank you very much. It's a scene of total devastation in the Rancho Brazos neighborhood. There are a little bit over a hundred homes in the area. The tornado destroyed most of them. There's very few that were left untouched. Habitat has built 61 homes in the area. Out of the 61, 58 have damage of, you know, all kinds -- from minor to total destruction.

BERMAN: One of the things about Habitat for Humanity, of course, is that people put their own sweat equity into building these houses. They work so hard by hand to put them up. It has to be especially painful for them to go through it right now. Have you had a chance to meet with these families yet? How is that community holding up?

FLORES: Yes. I had the opportunity yesterday to meet with some of the families who are staying in shelter in the church. As you can imagine, they are at the moment trying to, you know, make sense of the destruction. Some of them are very eager to go back to the neighborhood and see, you know, what was the result of the storm as you know this happened during the night.

They had to leave very quickly. Some of them don't know -- don't have an idea of what is the status of their home. On top of that, families are with opens to go back and rebuild. This is a very tight community. During the process of Habitat develops with families, they come together and really constitute a very close-knit community. They are eager in the middle of the tragedy they are eager to go back and rebuild.

ROMANS: So what happens next and what will you help do? You have to get people in rental units, get people situated. Not all these people had homeowners insurance, I'm assuming.

FLORES: Not all the people in the neighborhood, but Habitat homeowners, they do have homeowners insurance. So we are going to be working with them through the process. Let the insurance process play out. We're going to be there the entire recovery process, not only for the Habitat homeowners, but for the rest of the families in that neighborhood. Again, this is a tragedy that was focused in one neighborhood. The entire neighborhood, all the families are very much in solidarity with each other.

BERMAN: So many people watching this right now, Maria, are probably wondering what they can do to help people in the community that was hit so hard. Do you have advice for how people can get involved?

FLORES: Yes. A number of organizations are putting forward their best effort to help. If people would like to help Habitat with the effort in front of us, I would direct people to our web site, habitat.org where you can find more information on how to help affected families in Granbury.

BERMAN: All right, Mario Flores, Habitat for Humanity, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy day down there to speak with us. We really appreciate it.

FLORES: Thank you.

ROMANS: Ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, Anthony Bourdain takes a dangerous trip into Libya and learns the power of fast food. You're watching STARTING POINT.

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BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. The price is right, but the odds are long, one in 175 million, to be exact. But this is awfully hard to resist, the Powerball jackpot of $550 million even more attractive? ROMANS: You do a little math and there is a total of $740 million up for grabs this week and if you add in tonight Mega Millions drawing. CNN's Zain Asher is live at the gas station at New Jersey. We'll suspend our odds-making -- 1 in 175 million is very long odds, but let's talk about the hope. Zain, what are people telling you?

ZAIN ASHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot of people are hoping that they will win that jackpot. The store clerk here has been people have been lining up all morning. He expects sales to increase tomorrow as the deadline draws nearer. But as you mentioned, we are in Passaic, New Jersey. This is a town that has somewhat of a magic touch when it comes to Powerball numbers.

Just a couple months ago, one man netted himself $330 million. He bought his ticket about five blocks away from where I'm standing. This time around though the jackpot is much larger, $550 million at stake and of course, if you pick the lump sum you will still walk away with roughly about $350 million. That's the equivalent of getting a million dollars a day for almost an entire year.

But as you mentioned, guys, the chances are pretty dismal, one in 175 million. Those are your chances of winning this lottery. And of course, the more people that play, that of course does increase the chance that the winner will have to split the winnings with other people.

I spoke to people in town and said, if you won $550 million, everybody is saying they would spend the money on their family. Some people say they would do a lot for the community and also build schools and give money to their local churches as well.

BERMAN: If you win, Zain, we can use some of the money to buy some new audio equipment to hear you better. We got most of the report. There are so many people hoping it will be them. They will hold the winning ticket, $550 million. It's sure a lot of money. I won't let you drag me down. I'm hopeful. I think I'm going to win.

ROMANS: Isn't it a voluntary tax?

BERMAN: A little bit.

ROMANS: All right, thanks, Zain Asher.

BERMAN: Ahead on STARTING POINT, he normally thinks fast food is evil, but on his trip to Libya, Anthony Bourdain saw it in a whole new way. He saw it as a taste of freedom. That's one of many unexpected discoveries on this remarkable show. We'll tell you all about it next. You're watching STARTING POINT.

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ANTHONY BOURDAIN, HOST, CNN'S "PARTS UNKNOWN": Kentucky Fried Chicken. The colonel and his buddies, the king and the clown, have that quite made it here, given the uncertainty of the situation. So in the meantime, places like this have been popping up.

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BERMAN: So he is continuing to eat his way around the world. In this Sunday's "PARTS UNKNOWN," Anthony Bourdain visits Libya just a year and a half after the death of Moammar Gadhafi and that's where he found that Uncle Kentaki Fried Chicken. Now I spoke with Anthony yesterday and I asked him why in Libya to him fast food means freedom.

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BOURDAIN: As a parent, as a former chef, I have seen American fast food as sort of the evil empire. This is really one of the first times that I have looked at it as an expression of something else. This young kid, this militia member who had just been part of and lived through incredibly violent and stressful, turbulent bit of history, to have him look at the camera and say this is the taste of freedom, I really stunned me and broke my heart.

BERMAN: You have been wanting to go to Libya for a long time. Why?

BOURDAIN: I was in Kurdistan doing a show, a previous show, and I started hearing from friends in the security business, who were working in Libya, shall we say, doing some things there for the British, and they were sending me texts and e-mails saying basically it's awesome here, you would love it. Not the way it's depicted on television. It's something surprising going on here and very exciting. The idea of who is doing these things, who these people, are very exciting.

BERMAN: You went to a barbecue?

BOURDAIN: Yes. We spent much of the time in Libya not just in Misrata but Tripoli and points between. Riding around in cars with machine guns with these kids and they took to us a beach barbecue in Misrata, in the middle of a turbulent time. And it's like any other barbecue, throw an animal on a grill and you have a really good time and get your hands dirty, tell jokes and laugh and cry a little bit. It was an extraordinary experience.

BERMAN: The difference with this beach barbecue filled with kids, these kids were heavily armed and just fought a civil war.

BOURDAIN: Just fought a civil war with do it yourself home made weapons, Soviet or Russian modern battle tanks with homemade cross bows that would project Molotov cocktails with repurposed rockets and artillery, ignited by a hair dryer.

BERMAN: Were you safe? Did you feel safe at every moment?

BOURDAIN: It was a highly stressful experience to be woken up every night at 2:00 to be told to grab your passport. Make sure you are packed and ready. That's stressful, but frightened, scared for my life, stupidly or not, no and I'm not a particularly courageous guy.

BERMAN: The great places, not so great places. You eat your way through the country, the food there? Stress relief or nuisance to worry about?

BOURDAIN: They have great seafood in Libya. It's an ice breaker. When you talk to someone who is -- you know, has extraordinary things to say, in the conversation seems to be about food it often leads in wonderful directions. So, you know, in every case, the meal was a way in to more interesting subjects.

BERMAN: Still a lot of problems there.

BOURDAIN: No doubt.

BERMAN: Where do you think it will be one year, two years, three years from now?

BOURDAIN: The Libyans I spoke to, realistically, you clearly have huge problems here. Clearly a lot of bad guys out there who have no love for Americans, they said, look, we have to be realistic here, not much of a government right now, five years? Ten years? They want democracy. They may not want the democracy that we want to have.

But they want something like -- they want freedom, they want the things they see Europe having as a matter of course. They want a life-style and a freedom to speak. That I think most people want. But they are very aware of what they call the dark forces who would like to -- by their way of thinking turn the clock back to chaos and to murder.

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BERMAN: You know, spoken to Anthony Bourdain quite a bit over the last few years about the different places he's gone, I've never seen him taken by a place like this. This is a really special trip for him to a country that is a really unique place at a really unique time. It's a really terrific episode. Anthony Bourdain "PARTS UNKNOWN," the Libyan episode airs this Sunday at 9:00 p.m. right here on CNN. Do not miss this one.

ROMANS: Ahead on STARTING POINT, the former acting chief of the IRS goes before members of Congress. How much did he know?

BERMAN: Then that is one monster catch. We will meet the teenager who bagged an 800-pound alligator. We're going to find out how he did it. STARTING POINT, back in just a moment.

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ROMANS: Good Friday morning. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. Our STARTING POINT this morning, the IRS scandal that continues to plague the White House. The acting commissioner that recently resigned is making his way to Capitol Hill this morning. So will he plead the fifth or will he cooperate with members of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee?

ROMANS: A huge cleanup is underway in Northern Texas. We're going to go live to the region to see the daunting task facing those residents. BERMAN: More than half a billion dollars up for grabs in Powerball. Could it be yours? Want to know what your odds are? We'll tell you. Here is a hint. They are not great.

ROMANS: And you can't miss this interview. Call it skill or beginner's luck. How one Texas teen nabbed this monster 800-pound alligator? What does he plan to do with the catch? We're going to ask him. It's Friday, May 17th. I'll say it one more time. It's Friday! STARTING POINT begins right now.