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Oklahoma Tornadoes; She'll Plead the Fifth; Immigration Overhaul Advances

Aired May 22, 2013 - 05:00   ET



ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Lives lost, bodies hurt, but Oklahomans vowed to survive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's painful. Basically, just the sound you're hearing, it's pain. You think what if that was my family member? What if that was me?

SAMBOLIN: We now know that the tornado that ripped through Moore, Oklahoma, ranked as the most powerful on the scale. We're talking about 200-mile-an-hour winds.

But no storm could keep heroes from crawling out of the woodwork, teachers saving children, neighbors saving neighbors. First responders risking their own lives to save their fellow man.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I told them to sing as loud as they could. And if they got scared, they could scream. But sing as loud as they could. And so, that's what we did.

SAMBOLIN: And safe rooms. Coming up, how a small, but mighty box saved the lives of so many.


SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you. And welcome to this special edition of EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin in New York.

We have lots of news to tell you about this morning, John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman, live from Moore, Oklahoma. It is Wednesday, May 22nd. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And we're going to begin here, because here in Moore, there are so many stories of survival, so many stories of hope, but also stories of tragedy, as we transition now from the search and rescue to the recovery operation here in this ravage landscape.

This right now is the latest: the National Weather Service now confirms that the twister that tore apart this town on Monday, it was an EF-5 with winds peaking at 210 miles an hour. It really doesn't get more ferocious than that.

Twenty-four people now confirmed dead, nine of them children.

And according to state insurance officials, damage claims are likely to top $1 billion. It's easy to see how that could happen with some 2,400 homes damaged or destroyed, and 10,000 people somehow directly impacted by this 1.3-mile-wide monster.

I'm standing in this neighborhood right now where you can see the scope of what happened here. The damage is really fairly wide throughout this part of the state. But in this one neighborhood, you see very specific, sometimes very small reminders of what was lost.


BERMAN (voice-over): Just one street, just one neighborhood. But countless reminders of the enormity of what happened here. The living room set with no living room. A minivan in a space that defies the laws of physics. A football on a lawn. Who knows when anyone will next be able to play again?

(on camera): Let me give you a sense of the power of the storm. This is a guardrail. This heavy piece of twisted metal was part of the highway which is a few blocks that way.

Somehow, this tornado moved this guardrail from the highway right to here. This shows you how powerful it is.

But there is another sight I want to show you which gives a sense of the damage that this storm could do. And it's a simple, small image. It's this.

It's a kid's toy. It's a little car or truck here. It's part of someone's life.

We haven't seen anyone at this house today. Someone's life that will be changed forever.

(voice-over): In yard after yard, giant wooden splinters, spears sticking out of the ground.

(on camera): And in the middle of all of this debris, in the middle of this muck, middle of all of these lives that is simply been torn apart, now there's this rain falling down on all these people trying to piece their lives back together.

(voice-over): The rain falling on Richard Jones in his living room.

(on camera): So show me where you rode out the storm.


We were in this bathtub here. The two youngest grand kids, I laid over them. My daughter right over me, we had a mattress over the top of us.

BERMAN: How many of you were in here?

JONES: Four and a dog.

BERMAN: What did it sound like while the tornado was blowing over?

JONES: Just unreal. It sounded like the whole house was ripping apart. This -- I was just waiting to be sucked out at any moment. I knew the house was being destroyed.

You could hear the grass breaking, shattering, it was unreal. Very unreal.

BERMAN: How long did it last?

JONES: My daughter said 90 seconds. It felt like forever.

BERMAN: And when you came out, what do you think about what you saw?

JONES: I don't know how we lived. You can go outside and see the destruction. It's just unreal. Very unreal. Luckily, we're all here and alive.


BERMAN: Also unreal, Richard Jones there.

So many people I spoke to on this street had smile on their faces as they dug through their homes. The reason, they all survived, their families are all OK and there's a sense of relief amongst all of them that they somehow managed to pull through this. They know the future will be tough but they'll get there eventually.

As we've been saying, relief efforts in full force. And the city here is requesting financial donations from people who want to help this town rebuild. There have been requests for flashlights, and batteries, even tetanus shots.

So many people are stepping on nails that are being torn by the twisted metal.

Pamela Brown joins you right now. She's been covering this really inside the muck and debris here for the last two days.

Nice to see you, Pamela.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good to see you too, John.

You know, I've been talking with survivors, just like you have. It's amazing to see the resilience, the resolve. People have smile on their faces in the midst of all of this.

And we talked to one woman who just had a newborn baby. Can you imagine? And she lost her home. Her home looks just about like this, but she also had that same resolve and she is coping and one of so many here in Moore, Oklahoma, who is recovering.


BROWN (voice-over): Candace Phillips cradles her six-day-old Conner baby in her arms, overcome we motion and gratitude for this moment.

CANDACE PHILLIPS, ESCAPED DEADLY TORNADO: I was wondering if I was going to be able to, you know, see him grow up. You know, if the tornado was going to turn and come for us next or if we were going to make it to the hospital at all.

BROWN: Candace only had moments to grab her newborn baby boy and jump in her car when Monday's mammoth tornado carved a path of catastrophic destruction in Moore, Oklahoma.

PHILLIPS: Fight or flight instinct. You either stand there and stare at it in fear, or you get in the car and go. And that's what we did. We were literally throwing things in the truck and jumping in, which was not easy five days after having a C-section.

BROWN: Packed in the truck with her brother, mother, and little Conner sleeping in her arms, all she could see out the back window was this image captured on her brother's cell phone -- a monster twister headed right for them.

PHILLIPS: This massive, dark, gray, just swirling tornado just barreling down behind us.

BROWN (on camera): And it looked at one point it was right on the path to you.

PHILLIPS: Yes, it did. It did.

BROWN (voice-over): Candy Knight (ph) and her boyfriend say they missed the tornado by mere seconds and watched as a 7-Eleven was leveled.

CANDY KNIGHT, ESCAPED DEADLY TORNADO: If I would have been ten seconds slower, we would have been gone. I had my little 5-year-old between my legs on the floor. We just barely missed it.

BROWN: With so many left without homes, their resilience strengthened by their survival.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to be OK. We're going to get back. We're definitely Okies. That's what we're known for. We come back arms swinging.

BROWN: Oklahoma's governor echoed that spirit with her own resolve.

GOV. MARY FALLIN (R), OKLAHOMA: We will rebuild. We have seen time and time again the strength of our people, the courage, the perseverance and we have come back much stronger after the tragedies we've been through.

BROWN: As for Candace, her life uprooted, her home destroyed. She'll now be staying at temporary housing at the University of Oklahoma. Incredibly, though, she says, she has no complaints.

PHILLIPS: I'm thankful I'm here and there's like volunteers helping with everything. And that, you know, we have a place to go. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And it's amazing, she said that. Little Conner slept through the entire ordeal. And also mentioned this will be, of course, number one story in his baby book.

BERMAN: You know, I see him packed into the back of the car with everything else, all the belongings they could salvage, and you see her, she's lost so much, but in a way she's holding her baby. So, you could say she has everything.

BROWN: Yes, that's right.

BERMAN: What an amazing story.

BROWN: Unbelievable.

BERMAN: Pamela Brown, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

As we told you, the National Weather Service revised the strength of this storm. They revised it up to an EF-5. That's extremely powerful, with winds topping 200 miles an hour. It really makes it one of the strongest storms ever to hit this country.

I want to bring in meteorologist Indra Petersons right now at the CNN weather center in Atlanta.

Indra, how do they determine the strength of a tornado like this?

INDRA PETERSONS, AME METEOROLOGIST: Yes, John, that's one of the biggest misconceptions out there.

We actually have some great video her showing the time lapse of this. And I want to keep in mind, when we do see the tornado out there, a lot of people think, why don't they tell us it's going to be an EF-5 coming our way?

Well, we don't determine the strength of the tornado until the aftermath. We actually send a team of meteorologists out, they survey the damage, they determine what kind of wind or what -- how strong the wind would be to cause this type of damage and then we go backwards and say, OK, that was about a 200-mile-per-hour wind. So, for that reason, that area had an EF-5 tornado.

So, that is a little bit of a misconception.

I want to show you right now again what all those conditions are. We keep talking about it.

You've got the warm, moist air. You've got the dry air behind it, the cold air, the strong winds, the turning of the winds -- all these elements when they come together, that's what produces the strong tornadoes, the more of them that come together. Of course, that's going to be the highest strength you see up there.

So, as far as the scale, now that we know there is EF-5 damage out there, that's the highest level of damage you can get, incredible devastation, exactly what we've been seeing. In fact, we actually have on Google here showing you the path.

We talked about how it was unpopulated. That's where we were seeing more of the small damage or the lower strength tornadoes.

Unfortunately, we really saw this strengthen right as it went through the town of Moore. So, between New Castle and Moore, as you really started to see these intensities right around Briarwood Elementary School is where we did find some EF-5 damage. So, really unfortunate there, and then once it kind of clear to the unpopulated areas is actually where we started to see it diminish again.

So, really, the majority of the damage, kind of varying from EF-0 all the way up to EF-5. So, a lot of that out there. Keep in mind, we still have the severe weather threat today pushing in towards Ohio Valley.

So, still another day to keep aware of your surroundings -- John.

BERMAN: That's right. Keep aware of what's going on, watch those forecasts, because every single minute can help save lives.

Indra Petersons, thanks so much for that. Appreciate it.

For country superstar Toby Keith, the disaster here in Moore, Oklahoma, is personal. He went to grade school near the Plaza Towers Elementary School. And he used to bike through the neighborhoods that are simply gone.

Last night, Keith made an appeal for help on "PIERS MORGAN LIVE."


TOBY KEITH, COUNTRY SINGER: These people are resilient, helping each other out, they're as prepared as anybody. They'll rebound. But right now, the first thing to do is probably call Red Cross, Salvation Army, support that and they'll get a laundry list together and we can help get it started.


BERMAN: Keith says he's in the beginning stages now of planning a benefit he wants to raise money for people here. He says he's received hundreds of messages from fellow entertainers who want to help out. So many people around the country want to help out.

Coming up, the governor here says that everyone in this town is accounted for. But this morning, some family members still in a desperate search for their loved ones.

We're back after this break.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. More than 100 people have been rescued since that powerful EF-5 tornado came tearing through this town on Monday. That's the good news. Some 100 people rescued.

But this morning, the town still very much hurting. The people lost 24 of their own, including nine children who died. Thankfully, we do not expect those numbers to go higher at this point.

Nick Valencia live from city hall this morning.

And, Nick, what can you tell us right now about the victims?


It was destruction on a colossal scale. And in a situation like this, any life lost is one too many, especially when you think about these nine precious children who lost their lives at the elementary school.

Yesterday, one of those names became public. In an interview with our Anderson Cooper, the father of 9-year-old Ja'Nae Hornsby was made public. He described his daughter as a ball of love, a ball of energy, and really the rock and heart and soul of the family. He found out yesterday the very bad news that his daughter was among the dead.

But so far, John, that's the only public name. That's the only name CNN has been able to independently confirm -- John.

BERMAN: There will be more names for sure and more mourning here in this town, Nick.

Nick, in this neighborhood where I'm standing, I saw search teams come through here twice yesterday with dogs climbing over the rubble here. They didn't find anything.

The question, are there still more people feared missing?

VALENCIA: Well, it's an ominous sign for those who still believe that their family members are missing. That search and rescue now a search and recovery. Yesterday, I spent a lot of time on the phone with family members who believe their loved ones are missing.

Of course, you have to take into the equation that traditional lines of communication are down. Cell phone towers are down, some people's cell phones may be at the bottom of that debris.

But yesterday, I spoke to Erica Sandoval, who was in Tennessee, watching the storm unfold. She told me, John, that she believes her sister was in the neighborhood, that Moore, Oklahoma, neighborhood that was completely leveled by the EF-5 tornado.

Take a listen to what she had to tell me.


ERICA SANDOVAL, SISTER SANDY IS MISSING (via telephone): My mind is everywhere. My boss actually pulled up the site and she did that for me because I can't think straight. And I'm kind of in a fog. I just -- I don't want to believe that. I don't.

But it, you know, I can't reach her, I can't find her, I don't know where she is. And I don't know if she could get to me or get ahold of me or anything to let me know that she's OK.


VALENCIA: For those like Erica trying to make contact with their loved ones, there's a couple of Web sites that are up for people. Social media has been very active, Twitter, of course, played a huge role in trying to reconnect family members.

But two Web sites that we should drive viewers to, "Moore Tornado Lost and Found". There's also another Web site "Safe and Well," where a lot of family members have been reconnecting with lost loved ones -- John.

BERMAN: Nick, to be sure, we want to see more reunions, more reconnections.

Nick Valencia, thank you so much for that report. We -- our hearts go out to those family members still missing their loved ones.

If you want to help the victims here in Oklahoma by giving blood or giving money or any way you can, please visit our Web site, We have all kinds of ways you can help out there.

And, Zoraida, I have one story here from yesterday. We were in a different location. And so many people here want to help, want to reach out and do what they can.

There was this truck load of kids who pulled up to where we were and they asked us, they said, do you know where we can go to help out? We've already been to two places and we've been turned away because they had so many volunteers already. No one will take our help.

There are a ton of people on the ground doing everything they can. You know, there's been an outpouring of support. And so many people just want to join together and help this community through it, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Did you say it was a bunch of kids?

BERMAN: They were high school kids and they were going from place to place looking for somewhere to volunteer.

SAMBOLIN: I just love that. That is a great story. Thank you for sharing that, John.

Now, we'll head back over there in a little bit. But coming up, some other big news we're following for you this morning, a jailhouse interview from Jodi Arias. How she says she'll make a difference if jurors spare her life.


SAMBOLIN: Twenty-two minutes past the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START.

She will plead the Fifth -- that's the word from the IRS official in the center of the investigation to the targeting of conservative groups for audits. Lois Lerner may not say anything at today's congressional hearing, but she's already spoken about the matter.

We get more from CNN's Dan Lothian.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She's at the center of the storm, the head of the unit accused of targeting conservative groups seeking tax exempt status, and the first to admit publicly it was done.


LOIS LERNER, IRS OFFICIAL: They used names like "Tea Party" or "Patriots". And they selected cases simply because the application had those names in the title. That was wrong, that was absolutely incorrect, it was sensitive, and it was inappropriate.


LOTHIAN: But her lawyers informed Congress that despite to testify, today, Lerner will invoke her Fifth Amendment right and refuse to answer questions.

Her bosses were in the crossfire yesterday. The acting commissioner telling senators he did not hold back information from Congress.


SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: You lied by omission. You knew it was going on, and you knew that we had asked. You should have told us.

MILLER: I answer the questions. I answered them truthfully.

LOTHIAN: Former IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman's answers didn't seem to settle senators' concerns.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's easy, three words, "I was responsible."

SHULMAN: I understand the words. What I'm telling is this happened on my watch, I accept that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. But you're not personally responsible.

SHULMAN: I'm deeply regretful that this happen and it happened --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Never mind, never mind. Let's just move on. LOTHIAN: The controversy is forcing the White House to play defense.

REPORTER: I'm trying to figure out how people in this building knew what they knew when they knew it. And we see them --

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Let's step back. Here's what they knew.


REPORTER: Sir, I'm asking precise questions, and you're acting like I'm petulant.

LOTHIAN: Admitting that the White House was not just told about the IRS in April, but was part of discussions of how Lerner should roll out the agency's revelations.

CARNEY: There was discussions of the release of this information and the findings of the report.

LOTHIAN: Facing one tough question after another, Carney continued to push back.

CARNEY: We could go down the list of questions. We could say what about the president's birth certificate? Was that legitimate?

LOTHIAN: Dan Lothian, CNN, Washington.


SAMBOLIN: Our thanks to Dan.

Twenty-four minutes past the hour.

Jurors will be back in court today deliberating whether Jodi Arias should get the death penalty. This as we're seeing a new jailhouse interview with Arias. On Tuesday, Arias asked the jury to spare her life. She says that she could make a difference in person teaching fellow inmates how to read, helping victims of domestic violence and even donating her hair to Locks of Love.

She spoke from jail last night to KSAZ reporter Troy Hayden.


TROY HAYDEN, KSAZ REPORTER: What do you think the jury is going to decide for you?

JODI ARIAS, CONVICTED MURDERER: I don't know. I can't predict it.

HAYDEN: Do you have anything one way or the other?

ARIAS: I have no idea.

HAYDEN: Are you trying to use the media for something? Why are you talking to us? ARIAS: Why are you talking to me?

HAYDEN: Because we're interested in what you have to say. But the bigger question is why you have an interest in talking to us?

ARIAS: What I've decided to do at this point is utilize the mouthpiece I have, so to speak, to bring awareness to domestic violence.


SAMBOLIN: On the day she was convicted, Arias said she wanted the death penalty, but she says she has changed her mind after speaking with her family.

And developing this morning in the investigation into the deadly attack on U.S. diplomats in Benghazi, Libya. A senior Republican lawmaker tells CNN that investigators now have names to go along with the photos of people who may have been involved in that attack. The lawmaker could not say how many people had been identified.

At a congressional hearing last week, Attorney General Eric Holder hinted there were new definitive and concrete developments there.

And a giant step forward for one of the most sweeping immigration bills in decades. The Senate Judiciary Committee voting to approve the landmark legislation yesterday. It would carve out a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants, invest billions of dollars in new border security and raise the number of visas for high- tech workers.

After five days of sometimes really intense debate, three Republicans join 10 Democrats in passing that measure. That bill now moves to the full Senate. Debate begins there next month.

And coming up, we'll go back live to Moore, Oklahoma, and look into whether a storm shelter could have been the difference between life or death as a tornado tore through that town.