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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Tornado Hits Oklahoma; Storm Chasers Interviewed; White House Continues to Deal with Scandals; Hofstra Student Killed in Hostage Situation; Northeast Corridor Travel Suspended on Metro North and Amtrak Between Boston and New York; Who Won the Powerball?

Aired May 20, 2013 - 07:00   ET

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


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Our "starting point" dangerous and deadly tornadoes ripped through five states and today could be just as bad. At least one person killed, dozens more injured, and homes completely flattened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People need to stay safe. Oh, no it's hitting the house. There goes the house.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: We'll talk with the storm chasers who captured this stunning and terrifying video.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And dramatic new video of a hot air balloon crash. We'll tell you what happened when these two balloons collided in midair.

SAMBOLIN: Then you know fans always want to get close to their favorite star but one girl got more than she bargained for the Billboard music Awards when singer Miguel slammed into her head. You got see the jaw dropping video.

BERMAN: It's not pretty.

SAMBOLIN: Not, it's not. It's Monday, May 20, 2013. STARTING POINT begins right now.

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

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: We're going to begin with breaking news this morning. We're getting in shall estimates that at that rash of violent storms damaged or destroyed 300 homes in Oklahoma. We'll show you a tornado now that hit central Oklahoma, look at that, bearing down on the city of Shawnee. One man who lived in a trailer park in the area has died. About a dozen others injured. These twisters tearing roofs off homes, took down power lines and trees.

The National Weather Service says tornado reports stretched through the country's mid-section. Look that map, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, a huge swath of the country affected. Our Nick Valencia is in the hard hit Shawnee, Oklahoma. Good morning, Nick. What are you seeing there this morning?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. We would like to show our viewers inside the trailer park, but right now authorities have too much to do and too much on their hands. But if this gives the view ears sense of how powerful this storm was, this was a tree that was completely ripped from the ground.

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VALENCIA: You can hear the roar as this half mile wide tornado tears across the land, headed straight towards Shawnee, Oklahoma. There were more than two dozen reports of tornadoes from Oklahoma to Iowa Sunday, more than 45 homes damaged, at least one person killed and a dozen injured.

JOHN WELSH, KFOR CHOPPER PILOT: It's coming up on a handful of houses here.

VALENCIA: The hardest hit a trailer park near Shawnee, Oklahoma. Houses demolished. Our affiliate KFOR pilot John Welsh said he's never seen anything like it.

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

WELSH: I'm used to seeing trees ripped up but the house usually there. This was gone. Everything was just gone. Like you took the house, you put it in a gigantic blender, turn 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 sundown.

VITA SMITH, TORNADO SURVIVOR: There were tree limbs flying and we just hunkered down and hoped for the best.

VALENCIA: I-40 was littered with debris as two semis were overturned. This 18 wheeler blew off 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. I was at home. He said a tree fell 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 Fallon declared a state of emergency in 16 counties. The residents fortunate enough to get underground were in utter disbelief when they surfaced.

CATHY TALBOTT, TORNADO SURVIVOR: We were in the storm shelter, and it was like a lot of pressure in our ears. And the top came off. There's 13 people living in our house. And it ripped off the top of the storm shelter. It sounds like a train and after all the noise. Then when we came out the house and everything, the trees and the electric, we said we'll be trapped there all night.

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

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VALENCIA: And this morning I spoke to the American Red Cross. They estimate at least 200 homes destroyed or damaged here. They put that number at about 300 statewide.

BERMAN: A lot of damage.

SAMBOLIN: Nick Valencia, thank you very much. The threat of tornadoes is not over yet. CNN meteorologist and the newest addition to our team here in the morning, Indra Petersons, is joining us live. So where are these storms headed next, Indra?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Unfortunately, look at this swath here. Today has the potential to be as bad as yesterday. In fact 500,000 square miles under severe weather threat today. What does that mean? It means 55 million of you have the potential to see the severe weather and even a moderate risk area encompassing 5 million stretching from Texas to Missouri. So definitely a tough day ahead of us, and unfortunately it looks like this threat will stay with us.

It's a very slow moving system. So really for the next couple of days we'll have to remain vigilant. Keep in mind when you're not under severe weather threat and have a slight risk you have potential tor strong tornado to come and push on through. We saw in fact last week in Granbury, Texas, where an EF-4 tornado pushed through. Everyone needs to stay vigilant throughout the day.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you very much, Indra, appreciate it.

BERMAN: Tornado chasers from base hunters chasing were in the thick of the storm. Look at these pictures, simply extraordinary and terrifying footage of the twisters in Kansas. Let's stop for a second and watch the close up of the rotation here.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're right at the funnel. Panning back down. It's almost too close. I can't zoom out and get the whole thing in the shot. Panning up the funnel, looking almost right overhead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: That really is amazing. I'm not sure I've seen pictures that vivid before. Kevin Rofls, Colt Forney, Scott Peake, their joining us now from Shawnee in Oklahoma. And gentlemen, those pictures are simply amazing right. Give us a sense what it was like to be so close to such a huge storm.

KEVIN ROLFS, STORM CHASER: Wow. It's pretty incredible. It's a feeling that can't be matched. You're feeling the power of nature, you know, right in front of you. But at the same time it's a scary feeling because you know the power it can hold and damage it can cause.

SAMBOLIN: How close you were to that?

ROLFS: I would estimate at the closest a little less than half a mile. When the tornado hit the house we were probably about three quarters of a mile to a mile away from it.

SAMBOLIN: Did you ever feel you were a little too close, that you were in a danger zone?

COLT FORNEY, STORM CHASER: Not really. This particular tornado, it was really a slow moving storm and the tornado was slow moving itself. So we had plenty of time to get out of its path. Although it was, had some very wobbly motion to it so we made sure we kept our distance and had time to move if we needed to.

BERMAN: It looked like one of the funnel clouds was particularly big and particularly loud. I want to take a look at this one section of this video.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow, that's a long rope. It goes way back. It connects way up. They are saying in the storm way up here. There it goes in the storm. The rope goes all the way back to the west, segmented, and then on the ground.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Look at that funnel. Look at that storm cloud twisting up in the air like that. Have you guys ever seen anything like this before?

SCOTT PEAKE, STORM CHASER: Well, I was on a storm chaser back on February 10th when I got the Hattiesburg, Mississippi, tornado, and we got a lot of debris loft in the air. Earlier in the season we got that. We do see on occasion, because we get close to the tornadoes, and so we do see that very quite often.

SAMBOLIN: I guess we're glad you're getting that close because we're getting amazing images here. They are awe inspiring, but we're terrified as we're watching it because you're so close to it. What pushes the three of you towards these feats of nature?

PEAKE: Well, our number one purpose is to get great footage and photos. That's the main part of our company. But on top of that our other passion is also reporting to the weather service and other sources to warn of the danger that might be coming. So we make that our number one priority as a storm chaser.

SAMBOLIN: Since you guys do this for a living, how do you compare this to other tornadoes that you've seen?

ROLFS: Well, on the front of damage, it was pretty fortunate it only really destroyed one structure as opposed to say the tornadoes that occurred this past Sunday, yesterday, that destroyed so many homes and businesses across a more concentrated swath of population. But as far as tornado footage, it's up there for us. It was good close footage, steady shots. It was pretty incredible tornado.

BERMAN: I know danger is your business, guys, but even as you were looking at it, at one point you seemed out the ear little bit of a prayer. I want to listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People need to stay safe. Oh, no. It's hitting the house. There goes the house. I hope they are OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: You have a sense of how much warning people there had that these storms were on the way?

FORNEY: The storm had been tornado warned for not quite sure how long. I couldn't keep track. But they have been warned for a while. The tornado is slow moving. When we went up to the hours we were the first people there, there were two occupants in the house. They were both OK. No scratches or bruises so I think they had time to get shelter.

BERMAN: That is great news that they had the warning to make themselves safe.

SAMBOLIN: That's really incredible. I heard you say "I hope they are OK." Typically when all of this is over you're seeing a lot of damage, a lot of destruction. How does this affect you emotionally?

PEAKE: It can be really tough. I mean obviously you never want to see a tornado hit a structure. When it does the first thing in my mind I hope they got shelter, I hope they are OK. Of course when we see structures hit around where we're filming our first response after that is to make sure everybody is OK. We find everyone untouched and only damage done is to their property.

BERMAN: Guys, we're glad you're OK. It's a dangerous business you guys work in. We're glad you're OK and the people in that house you checked out were OK. You guys have some amazing pictures. Thanks so much.

SAMBOLIN: Thanks for the images. We appreciate that. BERMAN: It's 12 minutes after the hour right now. And three major scandals continue to weigh down the White House this morning. The altered Benghazi talking points, we're talking about the taping of reporters phone records, and the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS. What has it done to erode people's confidence in the government, in the president? We have some brand new poll numbers out this morning to talk to you about. CNN national correspondent Jim Acosta live at the White House this morning. Good morning, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. That's right, the White House has a sliver of good news with the new CNN/ORC poll showing president's approval numbers holding up despite this triple trouble for the Obama administration. But that may depend on how this drags on.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You all are going to get wet.

ACOSTA: 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.

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

ACOSTA: Top GOP leaders fanned out on the Sunday talk shows.

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, White House SENIOR ADVISOR: What they want to when they're lacking a positive agenda is try to drag Washington into a swamp of partisan fishing expeditions.

ACOSTA: 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. Here's why, because, here's the cardinal rule in situations like these. Not just for this White House but all White Houses is you don't 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 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: As for who knew what when, the White House is acknowledging the White House counsel Katherine Rumler was told that the Inspector General's office was conducting this audit, looking into those allegations of political targeting at the IRS. She did not have the draft report but was informed of the general nature of that inquiry, John.

But it does appear the White House is taking a more aggressive stance with all of these controversies. On one of the Sunday talk shows yesterday, the top adviser Dan Pfeiffer said Republicans owe Susan Rice, the U.N. ambassador an apology over Benghazi. That is not like try to happen.

BERMAN: No. I think that's a safe bet, Jim. But clearly the White House trying to play some offense on these three scandals. Jim Acosta at the White House this morning for us. Thanks so much.

ACOSTA: You bet.

BERMAN: We have some new video to show you this morning. Dramatic pictures from Turkey. At laest one person was killed early this morning when two hot air balloons collided in mid-air. You can see one of the balloons going down right there. These balloons were apparently flying above several volcanic cones at a popular tourist destination in central Turkey. One balloon struck the other from the top causing the second one to go down right there. You can see it again on the ground there simply fluttering. At least 18 people were injured in the crash. Nine people were seriously injured.

SAMBOLIN: Ahead on STARTING POINT, we all want to know who won the nearly $600 million Powerball, right? So we went to Zephyr Hills, Florida where the winning ticket was sold to see if we could find the person. You're watching STARTING POINT.

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SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. The FBI is releasing new details about a training exercise that killed two special agents. Forty-one-year-old Christopher Lorrick and 40-year-old Stephen Shaw were members of the agency's elite hostage rescue team, training off the coast of Virginia Beach, Friday. The men were part of the critical incident response group basted at Quantico, Virginia. So far there's no word on how the agents died.

BERMAN: Police on Long Island say the officer who accidentally shot and killed a Hofstra student did not know that a hostage situation was underway when he entered the house. This is a tragedy. The officer opened fire early Friday morning on home invasion suspect Dalton Smith after Smith allegedly point a gun at him. Smith was holding 21-year- old Hofstra student Andrea Rebelo in a head lock at the time. Both were killed by the officer's bullets. Rebelo was remembered during Sunday's graduation ceremonies at Hofstra.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please join us in a moment of silence in her memory.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: At the time of the shooting the suspect Dalton Smith was wanted for jumping parole on a robbery conviction.

SAMBOLIN: And a rough day ahead for many northeast rail commuters as a key section of the track remains closed following Friday's collision between two Metro North trains. This is in Connecticut. NTSB investigators are focusing on a broken rail as a possible cause for the crash which injured at least 70 people. Five of those people remain hospitalized this morning. One is in serious condition. A long stretch of track in Connecticut remains shut down indefinitely affecting Metro North and Amtrak service from New York to Boston.

BERMAN: It's going to be a mess up and down the northeast corridor to be sure. The Billboard music awards kicked it up a notch this year, and they did it accidentally. R&B singer, Miguel, went airborne. That's Miguel right there in the air. This was during his performance last night. He slammed into two women. Brace yourself for this.

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(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Oh.

SAMBOLIN: I can't believe you said (ph) kicked it in high gear.

BERMAN: That's awful. Oh, man I can't get over it. If you're going to try a maneuver like that make sure you stick it. One woman laughed this off back stage and was interviewed with Miguel with an ice pack on her arm. The other young woman took the worst of it. We don't know how she's doing this morning. Certainly not what she expected when she went to these awards.

SAMBOLIN: I think Miguel thought that was the woman that he had hit.

BERMAN: When in fact it was the brunette who he really nailed. As for who won awards, let's just say Taylor Swift was red hot. We'll take to you L.A. in about 20 minutes and tell you how many statues she walked away with.

SAMBOLIN: She has so many of those statues.

BERMAN: I'm glad she's finally getting the recognition she deserved, right?

SAMBOLIN: Right right.

BERMAN: Taylor Swift - underappreciated.

SAMBOLIN: Ahead on STARTING POINT, talk of the country, who won the Powerball this weekend? We're live in Zephyr Hills, Florida where the winning ticket was sold.

BERMAN: Who has it?

SAMBOLIN: Don't know. Call us. Let us know.

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BERMAN: It's the single largest Powerball drawing ever, $590 million we can report this morning.

SAMBOLIN: A lot of money.

BERMAN: Yes, indeed. That is a lot of money. And it all went to the holder of one ticket in Zephyr Hills, Florida. Someone bought it at this grocery store but so far no one has come forward to claim the winnings. Who has that ticket? CNN's John Zarella is in Zephyr Hills, Florida where John I believe speculation is running wild this morning.

JOHN ZARELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: yes. You know, it's funny yesterday morning when we first got here people were coming up to us and saying what are you guys doing here? What's going on? By late in the afternoon, it had become somewhat of a novelty with people driving by, stopping, taking pictures of us, taking pictures of the Publix. Still nobody knows who the winner is.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZARELLA: This is the Zephyr Hills, 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 if 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.

ZARELLA: Wanting to know if you that have winning ticket.

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

ZARELLA: Did you win the Powerball?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's see.

ZARELLA: Check the ticket.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No it wasn't me.

ZARELLA: Wasn't you

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's all I got.

ZARELLA: The winner has 60 days to claim the cash payout prize and show up at Florida Lottery headquarters in Tallahassee to collect. The winner can take an immediate cash pay 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 the who won it speculation.

Publix said, quote, "we offer 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZARELLA: Now, hopefully whoever has the ticket is doing the right thing, getting the lawyer, getting the accountants and getting their house in order before they go to Tallahassee to claim the prize. And just in case lightning strikes twice in Zephyr Hills, I bought my ticket for Wednesday's drawing although it's only 40 million. I'm not sure I'd even claim it.

BERMAN: John Zarella, always prepared. That's what we love about you.

SAMBOLIN: Buy me one too!

BERMAN: Buy me a few. All right. John Zarella in Zephyr Hills. Appreciate it.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, just some awful damage this morning after dozens of tornadoes ripped through five states. We're going to look at the devastation live.

SAMBOLIN: Then she was not supposed to be on the plane. We'll hear from one of the passengers onboard the US Airways plane that was forced to land on its belly this weekend. What it was like inside that cabin right after the break. You're watching STARTING POINT.

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