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Heartland Gets Hammered; Emergency Landing Nightmare; Army Wife Surprises Husband

Aired May 20, 2013 - 05:30   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Roofs torn off, power lines down, neighborhoods completely devastated as dozens of tornadoes rip through the Midwest and the plains.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Crash, crash, crash. The pilot's voice echoed through the cabin as a U.S. Airways plane was forced into a belly landing. Wait until you see the amazing video.

BERMAN: Vets returning from overseas expect some changes to happen at home while deployed. But one army wife took to it a whole new level.

SAMBOLIN: I cannot tell you how special this story is. And you're going to want to stick around for it. It is unbelievable. It's one you haven't seen before, I think.

BERMAN: It's fantastic.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. Thirty-one minutes after the hour. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

And we begin with another rounds of deadly tornadoes. Dozens of them reported overnight and the latest one a tornado touched down on the western edge of Missouri and Golden City. At this moment emergency crews are assessing the damage, possible injuries we understand there.

And meanwhile look at this. This is central Oklahoma. A massive tornado bearing down on the city of Shawnee.

BERMAN: Crazy.

SAMBOLIN: That is just incredibly huge. One man who lived in a trailer park in that area died. About a dozen people have been injured as well. The National Weather Service says tornado reports stretched through the country's mid-section. Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Illinois.

Nick Valencia is in hard hit Shawnee, Oklahoma, this morning. What can you tell us, Nick?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Zoraida, we're on the fringes of that trailer park that was devastated by the tornado that swept through there yesterday. It really is difficult to understand looking at a radar how much it was damaged but you can tell by looking at this tree, this is a 20-foot -- at least 20-foot tall tree completely uprooted.

Look at these roots are almost as tall as I am. And that really gives you a sense of the power and the magnitude of the tornado that swept through here. The death toll still stands at one. The damage could have been a lot worse, though.

A welcome sigh of -- sign of relief as well. Two people were reported missing yesterday. They were unaccounted for. I spoke to the local county sheriff who told me late last night that those two people were not in the trailer park at the time the tornado hit. That's why they couldn't find them. So that is a nice sign, a welcome sigh of relief for this area that was just completely devastated by the tornadoes -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Nick, I have to tell you that as we're looking at these images it's certainly incredible to know that anybody survived there. You know, you're showing us a picture right behind you. And I have to tell you it's a little dark so it's hard to really understand the size of that tree. So I think when it lights up a little bit more we'll be able to see that a little bit better.

Nick Valencia, live for us. Thank you very much.

BERMAN: The thing is, the threat of these tornadoes not over. Yes, still very much continuing. CNN meteorologist Indra Petersons joins us live now.

Where are these storms headed next?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, unfortunately today will be just as bad as yesterday. We're still talking about a huge risk area. I want to show you the last 24 hours. Things have calmed and they noticed over two dozen tornado reports were out there. So that's how quickly things can develop. So by no means we want to relax at any point. Fifty-five million of you are under the gun today.

We've actually extended the risk area now, spreading a little bit farther east even towards portions of Michigan, all the way down through Texas and a moderate area also again in the forecast today. So we're talking about portions -- really northern portions of Texas, extending all the way into now Missouri. So a little bit kind of an eastward tilt there. Potential for more of that severe weather and of course the higher risk for tornadoes in those zones.

Now keep in mind this is a slow moving system. So even as we go in through the next few days we're still talking about 70 million of you being impacted Tuesday, even as we go in through Wednesday, we're still talking about this risk for tornadoes.

Now keep in mind, remember last week we saw Granbury, Texas. They were only under a slight risk and still an EF-4 tornado was able to cruise to the area so by all means the message here is stay vigilante. We have all the ingredients here for a large storm. We have that warm moist air, we have the dry air. So we're seeing that lift. We have a low in place. We have the cold air coming in from Canada. That's not all. The biggest thing is these very strong winds at the high level, the jet stream there really pushing through the area. The reason that's significant it allows for the turning of the winds. You have the lower level direction and then the higher level direction, and that's what's allowing that rotation. Unfortunately that will be with us again today so please, everyone, stay very vigilante.

BERMAN: Please indeed. Again the headline there, Indra, 70 million people potentially affected by these storms.

Indra Petersons, thanks so much.

Passengers and crew aboard a U.S. Air flight are counting their blessings. They survived a spectacular crash landing. Sparks flew as the plane touched down Saturday with no landing gear at Newark Liberty Airport. Amazingly no one was injured. CNN's Pamela Brown joins us now with her exclusive interview with a passenger who actually survived that harrowing flight.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this happened Saturday morning. Passengers still shaken up, John and Zoraida. All U.S. Airway passenger (INAUDIBLE) wanted was to start off with a direct flight to Newark but there was a kink in her travel plans. And due to that it turned into a fateful night she says she'll never forget.


BROWN (voice-over): Thirty-four people aboard this U.S. Airways flight as it made this dramatic emergency belly landing at Newark Airport due to travel with the landing gear. Linda Demarest was one of them and never thought this could happen to her.

LINDA DEMAREST, U.S. AIRWAYS PASSENGER: I thought it was it. We were going down. Well, basically it was a controlled crash but it was a plane crash. You see it on the news all the time. Not many people survive plane crashes. That was my thought.

BROWN: The mother of two said she was exhausted as she was making her way back home to New Jersey after training for her new nursing job in Dallas. The flight was going smoothly until --

DEMAREST: The captain comes out of the cockpit with a flashlight and he starts looking at the wing. At this point everyone on the plane knew something was going to happen.

BROWN: Moments later the crew confirmed her worse fears.

DEMAREST: The flight attendant told us there's a mechanical problem. You can see the flaps opening for the landing gear on the right side but the left side, the flap, would not open.

BROWN: Demarest's first thought, contract her family.

DEMAREST: I wrote to my husband we can't land. One landing gear went down. They are trying to fix it before we make an emergency landing. Then I wrote to him no announcement from the pilot yet. I love you. Then I wrote we are crashing and that's when I turned off the phone.

I kept thinking of my kids and my husband. That they were going to lose me. Then I thought back about 9/11 how families left messages for their loved ones so I texted each one of them, said I loved them and I turned the phones. It's not knowing.

BROWN: What she heard next she says she'll never forget.

DEMAREST: So about 200 feet before we hit the captain comes on the speaker yelling crash, crash, crash, crash, crash, while she's yelling same position, head down, key positions head down, so we're like this on the back of our seats.

BROWN: With sparks flying the cabin of the turboprop quickly filled with smoke. Emergency chutes deployed. Passengers evacuated. And the plane was quickly foamed. Demarest said those minutes felt like a lifetime.

DEMAREST: I just kept saying to myself stop, stop, stop, please stop. And then when you finally stop it's like elation. You made it.

BROWN: U.S. Airwarys says nobody on the plane was injured but Demarest says for her and her family the gravity of what happened still hasn't sunk in.

DEMAREST: I joked with somebody I should have played the mega millions but then I thought, you know, I already won. So I don't need to play. I have my family.


BROWN: Demarest says she wants to give a big thanks to the pilot and crew, even saying that the pilot is the, quote, "Captain Sully" of land. Overnight U.S. Airways spokesperson Davien Anderson told CNN that the incident is, quote, "A testament to how our crews are trained to respond and act with the utmost professionalism.

Demarest also added that she doesn't think she'll be flying again soon.


SAMBOLIN: I don't think anybody blames her.

BROWN: Right. And, in fact, she told us that she heard a plane flying overhead the other day and it gave her chills.

SAMBOLIN: I would imagine she'd be rattled forever.


SAMBOLIN: I said, how do you --


BERMAN: That account was chilling. I cannot believe what she went through.

SAMBOLIN: And we don't know anything about the pilot?

BROWN: Not yet. Everything is under review. So that's what the U.S. Airways spokesperson said at this point, you know, that they're looking into everything. But as you saw there, I mean, she's really hailing the pilot as a hero.

SAMBOLIN: Absolutely. That's an incredible story.

BERMAN: It sure is.


SAMBOLIN: Thank you. Thank you.

All right. Thirty-nine minutes past the hour. Taylor Swift was the belle of the Billboard Music Awards winning a staggering eight statues, including Artist of the Year and top Billboard 200 Album for "Red." She was generous enough to let Rihanna, Justin Bieber and One Direction get a few trophies as well. And during the show some fans got a face full of R&B singer Miguel.

Oh, oh, he went airborne during his performance. Look at that. Oh my goodness, he slammed into two women. Are they OK? One woman laughed it off back stage. Was interviewed with Miguel. With an icepack on her harm. But she still got to meet him. The other young woman seem to take the worst of it but we don't know how she is doing this morning. Look at that.

BERMAN: Going to try and move like that, you better nail this. That's all I can say.


BERMAN: Every time I tried that, I've nailed it.

SAMBOLIN: I'd take free concerts for those women in the future.

BERMAN: That is a great idea. And in a white outfit no less.


All right. Forty-minutes after --

SAMBOLIN: What does that have to do with anything?

BERMAN: I'm just saying that and, you know, wear the white outfit, make sure -- and make sure you do it right.


BERMAN: Forty minutes after the hour.

With her husband serving in Afghanistan for one year she decided to change things up and make sure she had one heck of a surprise in store for him when he arrived home. We'll tell you why she was virtually unrecognizable to her own husband.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. It is 44 minutes past the hour.

Vets returning home from military duty often expect changes in their families. But one Army specialist from North Carolina found an amazing transformation in his wife when they were reunited.

Take a look at this.


SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Twenty-seven-year-old Army Specialist Larry Shaffer returning from a year in Afghanistan got an incredible welcome home surprise. His wife had lost 100 pounds while he was away.

LARRY SHAFFER, ARMY SPECIALIST HOME FROM AFGHANISTAN: When I saw her at the airport I was -- I was in shock. I didn't know what to expect and when I saw her I was like -- there's no way that's my wife that I left, you know, a year ago.

SAMBOLIN: Misty Shaffer went from 254 pounds to 150 pounds in 12 months and her husband had no idea what she was up to.

MISTY SHAFFER, ARMY WIFE LOST 100 POUNDS TO SURPRISE HUSBAND: I was like, you know what, I'm going to keep this as a surprise for him because he's never seen me like this.

SAMBOLIN: Misty lost 15 pounds within the first two months eating healthy foods and keeping portions under control.

M. SHAFFER: When he was gone I was like hey, I'm going to try this. And with not having him here eating ice cream at night and stuff I was like I can do this.


SAMBOLIN: She only sent photos from her shoulders up. And he couldn't tell until he met her at the airport last week.

L. SHAFFER: Five years we've been married it's -- you know, I haven't really been this long without seeing her then I come home and she tells me that -- you know, she's losing all this weight and now I'm here and she's literally half the person she used to be. And I couldn't say anything, I didn't know, words couldn't describe how I felt. It was -- it was pretty amazing.

SAMBOLIN: Larry also got another amazing gift. A reunion with his 3- year-old daughter Navea whom he hadn't seen in over a year. And while Larry couldn't recognize the new Misty their daughter Navea can't recognize the old Misty.

M. SHAFFER: She does look at old pictures of me and she's like mommy, whose that. And I was like that's mommy. She like, no. I'm like, yes, it is.


SAMBOLIN: But her transformation wasn't Misty's only gift to her husband. She also surprised Larry with a new home and he says he is proud of how she's managed while he was away.

L. SHAFFER: She kept her weight loss and the house pretty much away from me for the past year. So I know she's able to face pretty much anything.


SAMBOLIN: So you just love that story. So ironically the first thing Larry wanted to do after arriving home was to get food. But now he is being very careful about making sure that it is healthy food. Larry Shaffer is also looking forward to spending time with his daughter. He now says he can finally have adult conversations with her since she was only 2 when he left.

BERMAN: That daughter was loving her dad.

SAMBOLIN: This is -- oh my gosh. It was beautiful.

BERMAN: That picture was beautiful.

SAMBOLIN: It's a great story. Great story.

BERMAN: All right, 47 minutes after the hour right now. And the Midwest and plains getting a destructive pounding from tornadoes. Question is, is the worst over? We'll have the latest on these powerful storms that continue to wreak havoc coming up next.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: This week on "THE NEXT LIST", Ayah Bdeir. Inventor of the next generation of Legos called Little Bits.

AYAH BDEIR, LITTLE BITS FOUNDER: Each Little Bit is a preassembled, pre-engineered electronic module that has one specific function.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: One thing that I noticed is that the colors are very gender neutral. Right? They're not all pink. They're not all blue.

BDEIR: There's a hidden agenda that I really believe that we have to work harder to get girls interested in science and technology but I don't believe in producing products for girls or for boys. I think that the intention here was that Little Bits were not going to be designed for boys. That was a deliberate decision and automatically they became gender neutral.

My name is Ayah Bdeir. I'm an engineer and I'm the founder of Little Bits.

GUPTA: Watch how Ayah is revolutionizing how kids learn about technology. This Saturday 2:30 Eastern on "THE NEXT LIST."



BERMAN: The heartland gets hammered, dozens of tornadoes touching down through the night and the threat of severe weather not over in many spots. The latest a tornado touched down in Golden City, Missouri. At this moment emergency crews are assessing the damage there. Also counting the possible injuries.

I want you to check this out, too. In central Oklahoma, look at that. Huge tornado caught on camera as it bears down on the city of Shawnee. One man who lived in a trailer park in the area died. Two other people from the same park were missing, I believe now they have been located.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. And Yahoo! is set to be buying the blogging site Tumblr for $1.1 billion. An official announcement expected today in New York. This is a major move for the CEO Marissa Mayer to try to tap into a young active online user base. And it's a coup for 26- year-old Tumblr founder and high school dropout David Karp. Under the deal he reportedly has to stay at Yahoo! for another four years.

BERMAN: So ever wonder what it'd be like to have a grizzly bear eat your face? Well, wonder no more. Biologist Brad Joseph was using a go --


BERMAN: He was using a camera to videotape grizzlies in Alaska for the BBC. When one of the bears tried to eat the camera -- look at that.

SAMBOLIN: Yucky, yucky, yucky.

BERMAN: Look at those teeth.

SAMBOLIN: Hope you guys aren't eating breakfast. That is disgusting.

BERMAN: Oh man.


(INAUDIBLE) morning. OK. The incredible thing here is the camera was not damaged. One more close up? Yes. There we go. Can you imagine what that camera felt like?

SAMBOLIN: That is absolutely pathetic. That's disgusting.

BERMAN: The saliva on that camera afterwards. All right. Brad, the man who owned that camera and presumably had to clean it up after, will join us live in the 8:00 a.m. hour of STARTING POINT to talk about that.

I wish I could interview the camera. SAMBOLIN: You just enjoyed that way too much.

BERMAN: I haven't seen that. That was crazy.

SAMBOLIN: That's disgusting. Sorry about that if you're in the middle of breakfast.

BERMAN: I'm not sorry. That was a wonderful story.



BERMAN: All right. Want to get an NBA superstar Dwayne Wade to go with you to the prom? All you have to do is ask. One girl's crazy prom story that shows us that when there's a will there's a way.

SAMBOLIN: Wow. All right. And CNN's own Anderson Cooper helps bid farewell to "SNL's" Bill Hader. We'll play a bit of hilarious clip for you.





SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. Fifty-seven minutes past the hour. Taking a look at the top CNN trends on the Web this morning.

This is a slum dunk of a surprise by NBA star Dwayne Wade. A Florida high school senior Nicole Muxo asked the Miami Heat superstar to go to prom with her. Wade never responded but then just showed up at the prom. We're going to speak live with Nicole about her dream date coming up on the 7:00 hour of STARTING POINT.

And Dwayne, if you're listening, my son graduates from eight grade June 7th, you're welcome to come to the graduation. I will give you one of my coveted five tickets.

BERMAN: Can you imagine him pull a muscle dancing in the prom? How do you explain that LeBron?

SAMBOLIN: There's a little bit of that going on, too. Yes. We're going to talk about that.

BERMAN: Crazy, huh?

All right. So a star stud salute to cast member Bill Hader's last night on "Saturday Night Live" had some hilarious surprise guest. During weekend update one of his more popular characters Stefon the club kid announced to anchor Seth Meyers that he was leaving to marry another man who turned out to be none other than our own Anderson Cooper. The confrontation at the altar is one for the ages. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)




BERMAN: Wow. That's incredible. Although it does explain the title "ANDERSON COOPER 360." A lot of us are wondering how and they came up with that title. Now we know for sure.

SAMBOLIN: Now we know.

BERMAN: In a "Saturday Night Live" sketch the couple returned to the studio where presumably they will live happily ever after. Pretty funny. There it is. Here's "ANDERSON COOPER 360." You just missed it.


SAMBOLIN: Good stuff. EARLY START continues right now.