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Heartland Gets Hammered; Hot Air Balloons Collide; Obama's 3- Headed Beast

Aired May 20, 2013 - 05:00   ET


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Dozens of tornadoes rip through the Midwest, leaving utter devastation -- look at this -- in their wake. Is it over or will today be just as bad as yesterday? We're going to have the very latest for you.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: In a deadly mid-air crash of two hot air balloons, we got this dramatic video for you. We'll have the details, straight ahead.

SAMBOLIN: Very scary. And just a few years ago, one hero cop's actions got him a seat right next to the first lady. Now, that same man is under arrest and he's suspected of rape.

Good morning to you. Welcome to EARLY START. Glad you're with us. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. Great to see you this morning.

We want to start with severe weather, because what a night it has been. Town after town, and state after state, tornado savaging the heartland. The latest: a tornado touched down in Golden City, Missouri. At this point, emergency crews are assessing damage of possible injuries.

Meanwhile, look at this. In Oklahoma, a massive tornado just huge --

SAMBOLIN: Oh my goodness.

BERMAN: -- bears down on the city of Shawnee. Look at that.

One man who lived in a trailer park in the area has died. About a dozen others have been injured. These twisters tearing roofs off homes, downed power lines, trees, even streets lights. And I said, state after state.

The National Weather Service says tornado reports stretched the country's mid-section -- Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Illinois.

Our Nick Valencia is on the ground, in the hard hit Shawnee, Oklahoma.

Good morning, Nick.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Yes, that storm system spreading across hundreds of miles of the mid- section of the country. In Oklahoma, it was Shawnee that was hit the hardest.

But you don't really get a sense of the destruction by looking at a radar. You sure do looking at something like this. And this really represents the power of the storm that moved through here.


VALENCIA (voice-over): You can hear the roar as this half-mile-wide tornado tears across the land, headed straight towards Shawnee, Oklahoma. A total of 26 twisters plowed through four states in the Midwest Sunday, over 45 homes damaged, one person killed, and at least a dozen injured.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's coming up on trailer (ph) houses here.

VALENCIA: The hardest hit, a trailer park near Shawnee, Oklahoma. Mobile homes toppled over, houses demolished.

Our affiliate KFOR pilot Jon Welsh said he's never seen anything like it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you came over the Shawnee trailer park to begin with, were you not a bit astounded at the amount of devastation there?

JON WELSH, KFOR PILOT: Yes, just the -- I mean, I'm used to seeing trees ripped up. But the houses are usually there. This, it was gone. Everything was just, it was just gone like you took the house, you put it in a gigantic blender, you turned it on pulse for a couple of minutes, and then you just dumped it out.

VALENCIA: The massive amount of rain dumped in the area had rescue workers scrambling through the devastation to reach the injured before Sunday.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Electricity went out and then it was hit (INAUDIBLE) was like because there were tree limbs flying, we just kind of hunkered down and hope for the best.

VALENCIA: I-40 was littered with debris as two semis were overturned. This 18-wheeler blew off over the overpass and was practically flattened. Overnight, video of the rescue crew tossing debris around trying to find victims.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My brother-in-law called me and I was at home and he said that a tree had fallen on my mother's house and I needed to pick her up. She's 79 years old. She's diabetic. She's blind.

VALENCIA: Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency in 16 counties. The residents fortunate enough to get under ground were in utter disbelief when they surfaced.

CATHY TALBOTT, TORNADO SURVIVOR: We were in the storm shelter and it was like a water pressure in our ears and the top came off. There's 13 people living in hour house, and it ripped off the top storm shelter. It sounds like a train and after all the noise and then when we came out the house and everything -- the trees and the electric -- we thought we were going to be trapped there all night.

VALENCIA: Tornadoes also ripped through three other states, Illinois, Kansas and Iowa. In Kansas, downed power lines and hail the size of golf balls cover the ground as this tornado blew through Wichita.

DARLA BRAUN, SURVIVED OKLAHOMA STORMS: It was very eerie. Very dark. The sky got very dark. We went to the cellar and we were so thankful that we also had our brains and we knew to go.

VALENCIA: A sigh of relief as two missing residents from Shawnee trailer park have been found. But Oklahoma isn't out of the woods yet as more storms are expected throughout the rest of the day.


VALENCIA: Just incredible pictures, John. We're on the fringes of that trailer park where at this hour, deputies continue to canvas the area and assess the damage -- John.

BERMAN: Nick, and I imagine as the sun comes up, those pictures will get more and more devastating to see. Nick Valencia on the ground for us in Shawnee, Oklahoma -- thanks, Nick.

SAMBOLIN: And as nick just mentioned, the threat of tornadoes isn't over yet.

New CNN meteorologist and the newest addition to our team here this morning, Indra Petersons is going to join us live here.

So, Indra, Nick said that they have more storms headed in that direction. How serious are they?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. Unfortunately, the tornado outbreak is still under way.

I want to show you in the last 24 hours. Things have calmed down. We're not looking at current watches and warnings. However, notice in the last 24 hours, how quickly these storms can develop. In fact, they had over two dozen tornadoes spotted there in the last 4 hours.

Let me show you how many are affected today -- over 55 million of you out there are currently under the gun. We're talking about the severe weather threat extending anywhere from Wisconsin, all the way through Michigan, all the way down through Texas, and in fact, a moderate risk still exists.

In fact, it pushed further off to the east. If you're out in northeastern portions of Oklahoma and even through Missouri today, that's about 5 million of you under a moderate risk.

And keep in mind, this is going to be lasting for some time, even as we go through Tuesday. This area of threat is going to be staying with us.

Yes, we'll go on towards a slight risk. But kind in mind, last week Granbury, Texas, you were under a slight risk with an EF-4 tornado went through your area. So, by no means not a reason to not stay vigilant. This weather is going to stay with us for some time. Even through Wednesday. We're going to be talking about that threat spreading through Illinois, Kentucky and New York.

Let's talk about what's going. We're still dealing with all that warm moisture cruising in from the gulf. You got a couple of mechanisms, almost like that perfect storm here. We have the dry air banking up against the moist air that produces the lift. We have the low. And most importantly we're talking about the core of the jet stream allowing the turn of the winds, meaning the threat for a tornado is still possible today.

So, of course, the key is, everyone does need to stay very vigilant out there today.

SAMBOLIN: Wow, 55 million people. Indra Petersons, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

And new this morning, dramatic new video to show you as well. At least one person was killed early this morning when -- look at this -- two hot air balloons collided in mid-air. That crash happened in central Turkey. The balloons were flying above several volcanoes at the time. At least 18 people were injured in that crash.

BERMAN: A nightmare for rail commuters in the Northeast this morning. A key section of track is closed as the NTSB investigators look into a broken rail as the possible cause of last Friday's rush hour collision between two Metro North trains in Connecticut. It ruled out foul play in the incident, which injured at least 70 people. Five of those remain hospitalized this morning, one in serious condition.

The mess of train cars that had been stuck on the track, they were all removed on Sunday. That's good news. The bad news is, a long stretch of track remain shut down indefinitely, affecting Metro North and Amtrak service from New York to Boston. That is a busy stress of tracks.

SAMBOLIN: Sure is.

Seven minutes past the hour. Police on Long Island say the officer who shot and killed a Hofstra University student didn't know that a hostage situation was under way when he entered that house. The officer opened fire early Friday morning on a home invasion suspect Dalton Smith, after Smith allegedly pointed a gun at him. Smith at the time was holding 21-year-old Hofstra junior Andrea Rebello in a head lock at the time.

Seven of the officer's eight bullets hit Smith another hit Rebello in the head. Both the suspect and Rebello were killed.

BERMAN: That is a tragic story. So is this one: a former hero police officer in Philadelphia finds himself on the wrong side of the law this morning. Richard DeCoatsworth was shot in the face back in 2007 but chased his attacker for three blocks until he passed out from blood loss. He quickly returned to the force, he helped capture a suspect in a notorious murder, and his work earned him a spot next to Michelle Obama in 2009.

But his career soon took a downturn. He retired in 2011. This over the weekend, he was arrested for drugging and raping two women he met at a party.

SAMBOLIN: And today, Jodi Arias could find out if she will get the death penalty for the brutal murder of her boyfriend, Travis Alexander. Arias is set to take the stand today, along with her ex- boyfriend Darryl Brewer and her friend, Patricia Wilmack (ph), as a sentencing phase of her trial now continues. Once testimony wraps up, prosecution and defense teams will offer their final statements and the case will go the jury who must decide between life in prison and the death penalty for Arias.

BERMAN: New this morning, a number that might surprise you despite a trio of scandals plaguing the White House -- who altered the Benghazi talking points, the tapping of phone records and the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS. Despite all this, the president's approval rating is holding steady, at least for now

Here's CNN national political correspondent Jim Acosta.



JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As President Obama escaped the White House to deliver a commencement speech in a steady rain at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Republicans were still pouring it on.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: There is a culture of intimidation throughout the administration.

ACOSTA: Top GOP leaders fanned out on the Sunday talk shows, vowing to get to the tomorrow of the IRS targeting scandal involving Tea Party and conservative groups.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: Who knew, when did they know, why did they do this, how high up in government did it go?

DAN PFEIFFER, W.H. SENIOR ADVISOR: What they want to do is drag Washington into a swamp of partisan fishing expeditions.

ACOSTA: A feisty senior White House advisor Dan Pfeiffer was asked time and again, when did the president find out about it?

PFEIFFER: When it came out on the news a week ago Friday, I think. Here's why, because here's the cardinal rule when you deal with situations like, not for just this White House but for all White Houses, is you do not interfere in an independent investigation.

ACOSTA: The IRS scandal hasn't damaged the president's approval numbers according to a new CNN/ORC poll. But a deeper look at the numbers finds the public remains concerned about the IRS, along with the questions about Benghazi and the government seizure of phone records from "Associated Press" journalists.

After his address to college graduates on Sunday, the president told a Democratic fundraiser, it's him versus Washington.

OBAMA: Sometimes you feel as if Washington is impeding rather than advancing the possibilities that these young people represent.

ACOSTA: But with more hearings featuring top IRS officials coming this week, it's a feeling the president may need to get used to.

Jim Acosta, CNN, Washington.


SAMBOLIN: Our thanks to Jim there.

Eleven minutes past the hour.

A lot of buzz this morning about the very personal nature of President Obama's commencement address yesterday at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

The president focusing on the subject of race and responsibility at this all-male historically black alma mater of Dr. Martin Luther King.


OBAMA: Whatever success I have achieved, whatever position of leadership I have held have depended less on Ivy League degrees or SAT scores or GPAs, and instead been due to that sense of connection and empathy, the special obligation I felt as a black man like you to help those who need it most, people who didn't have the opportunities that I had because there but for the grace of God go I. I might have been in their shoes. I might have been in prison. I might have been unemployed. I might not have been able to support a family. And that motivates me.


SAMBOLIN: Powerful for those young men.

The president called on the Morehouse graduates to be responsible family men, and to always extend a hand to those less privilege, as you heard there.

And President Obama's speech wasn't the only special moment at Sunday's graduation ceremonies at Morehouse. The name Dorian Joyner was called out twice as a Georgia father and his son both stepped up to claim their degrees. Forty-six-year-old Dorian Joyner, Sr. was a student at Morehouse back in 1988 but he left school to pursue a successful career as a data analyst for several major corporations. But in 2010, he told his son Dorian Joyner, Jr., that he was going back to school with him and it was not just for a visit.

Congratulations, gentlemen. That is a fantastic story. Lead by example.

BERMAN: Quite a feat for both of them, although I'm not so sure the son wants his dad at college with him.

SAMBOLIN: I know. But I bet it was fun and cool and different, right? And look, you're in national television.

BERMAN: Exactly. I get that (ph).

SAMBOLIN: Coming up on our EARLY START and the winner is -- nobody knows yet. A small Florida town eagerly awaiting to learn who the winner of the more half a billion jackpot is. We're going to be live in Florida.

BERMAN: And he is a high school dropout who may soon be worth than a billion dollars. The Tumbler found sells the company he started in his mother's apartment to Yahoo. The question is, how financially sound is this deal?

And then, the craziest video of the day -- a mistimed jump by an artist at the Billboard Music Awards, it goes terribly, terribly wrong. Wait until you see what happens.


BERMAN: So, Kai the hitchhiker, that 24-year-old viral video star now facing murder charges in New Jersey. He is establishing a legal defense fund online. A check this morning of his go fund me legal Web site shows that $247 in donations, which is far short of the $3 million goal. He's accused of fatally bludgeoning 73-year-old lawyer Joseph Galfy, Jr., at Galfy's home in Clark, New Jersey.

SAMBOLIN: It is 17 minutes past the hour.

It was the largest single Powerball drawing ever, $590 million and it all went to one lucky winner in Zephyrhills, Florida. Someone walked into the grocery store and walked out a multimillionaire. I would call him multigazillionaire. But so far, no one has come forward to claim the winning.

CNN's John Zarrella is in Zephyrhills, Florida -- where speculation I would imagine is running wild this morning, John.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's absolutely right, Zoraida. You know, when we first got here early yesterday morning, people would come up to us and say, what are you guys going here, what's all the commotion?

By the end of the day, all the shoppers here were coming up to us and they were asking, do we know who the winner is yet? And, of course, the answer is: no, we don't. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZARRELLA (voice-over): This is the Zephyrhills, Florida Publix. This is where someone, we don't know who yet, bought the single winning ticket in the richest Powerball ever, $590.5 million.

Some of the Sunday shoppers we spoke with either had no idea the ticket was purchased here or already had relatives calling. Some long lost.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm hearing from relatives all over the country.

ZARRELLA (on camera): Wanting to know if you have the winning ticket.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely, that I haven't heard from in years. I told them, but you have to buy a ticket.

ZARRELLA: And you didn't?


ZARRELLA: Did you happen to buy the Powerball?


ZARRELLA: Let's see, check the ticket. No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, it wasn't me.

ZARRELLA: Wasn't you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's all I got.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): Now, the winner has 60 days to claim the cash pay out prize and show up at Florida lottery headquarters in Tallahassee to collect. The winner can take an immediate cash out of $377 million after taxes or a smaller pay out now followed by yearly pay outs over the next 29 years.

In a statement, Publix made it clear it was letting the media drive who won it speculation. Publix said, quote, "We offered the lottery as a service to our customers. However, we do not promote the lottery nor do we participate in lottery stories. We're excited for the winner and respect their privacy as well."

Privacy for the winner, that won't last long. By Florida law once he, she or they come forward, the name is public.


ZARRELLA: Now, whoever actually won is apparently doing the right thing, they are probably getting an attorney lined up, probably getting an accountant lined up, getting all -- getting their house in order, Zoraida, before they actually go to Tallahassee to collect.

But everybody around here is quoting from the "Jerry Maguire" movie, you remember that, they're all yelling, show me the money.

SAMBOLIN: Show me the money.

ZARRELLA: And nobody stepped forward. So --

SAMBOLIN: Oh, I can't wait. That's a whole lot of money, $377 million after taxes. But that's not the only winner here, right?

ZARRELLA: No, that's exactly right. There were two, $2 million tickets. One was sold in New York, and one was sold in South Carolina.

Yes, one in -- and there were 33 tickets sold in 17 states that netted each of those people a million bucks a piece. Still, some good prizes out there.

SAMBOLIN: Those sound effects are courtesy of John Berman. Where in New York, do we know?

ZARRELLA: John -- I think it said Berman's address.

BERMAN: I didn't buy a ticket. That's why I'm grunting. I'm like, oh, I didn't buy a ticket. Someone in New York won.


SAMBOLIN: Oh, no. How funny. Thank you so much, John. We appreciate it. We'll check back in with you.

ZARRELLA: Sure. Sure.

SAMBOLIN: And coming up, we have terrifying images of the deadly series of tornadoes tears apart the Plains and Midwest. These poor folks, more storms on the way. We're going to go live to Oklahoma for the very latest.

BERMAN: And Memorial Day is almost here. So, can you afford the gas for your family's road trip?


BERMAN: The latest spike in prices --

SAMBOLIN: This is the same story every year, John.

BERMAN: It is a problem this time. It is not boding well for Americans like you.

Is there a break in sight?


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone.

So, you may have noticed that you were digging a little deeper at the pump these days. That's because the average price of a gallon of unleaded gas is now up to $3.65 a gallon. That is up 11 cents over just the past two weeks. And this is just in time for the summer driving season.

Zain Asher is live from Richfield in New Jersey this morning.

Zain, what is driving up these prices?


Well, much of the price hikes are actually coming from the Midwest. Out there, we're seeing gas prices rise by more than 43 cents a gallon in the past week alone. Now, a lot of refineries are close for schedule maintenance, happens every year. They are closing for things like inspection, repairs, that kind of thing.

Also, refineries are switching over to their summer blend of gasoline. It's more echo-friendly. But also, a little bit more expensive.

All of this is putting a constraint on supplies, and that is sending prices up. Let me just give you an example of what we're dealing with in the Midwest. Minnesota, $4.28 a gallon. Second only to California by the way. North Dakota, $4.20 a gallon. Nebraska, $4.05 a gallon.

I'm here in New Jersey. I did speak to drivers who are experiencing rising gas prices in the past week. Here's what they had to say.


SOR PEREZ, NEW YORK RESIDENT: It's really hurting a lot of people's pockets. The economy is bad, there's no work. You can't spend nothing because if you do spend something you got to know what to budget on. It's difficult just surviving out here especially with these gas prices. You can't even take your kids anywhere.


ASHER: And I did speak to one analyst last who said that he expects gas prices to continue rising through Memorial Day weekend. Obviously, it is a big driving weekend, demand does go up but he did say that after that good news that gas price will decline in June -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Zain Asher for us in New Jersey. The gas station there is empty. When people show up they have a bad surprise in store for them. Thanks, Zain.

SAMBOLIN: Twenty-six minutes past the hour.

A fateful decision that ended with a miracle. A woman who boarded the passenger plane forced into a dangerous belly landing tells us what happened aboard that aircraft. She was never supposed to be on that plane. Her story is still to come.

BERMAN: Plus, an artist at the Billboard Music Awards accidently legs drop fans during his performance. It's ugly. We will show you the incredible video, just ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)