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Oklahoma Tornado An EF-5; Surveying The Damage; Tornado Destroys Neighborhood; Victims Face New Challenges; Heartache In Oklahoma; New Jailhouse Interview with Jodi Arias

Aired May 22, 2013 - 06:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were in this bathtub here, had the two youngest grandkids. I laid over them.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How many of you were here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Four and the dog.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): More and more amazing stories of survival. People huddling, hunkering down, waiting out the storm. People like this teacher, this hero, saving the lives of her students by cramming 20 kids into a closet and a bathroom.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Before I shut the doors, because those bathrooms had doors, I said, "I'm going to shut the door," and I said, "I love you."

BERMAN: After the storm, the only place left standing in this part of the elementary school, the girls and boys bathrooms. Twenty lives saved. Twenty kids who got to go home to their families. Many other families used these -- storm shelters, metal, and concrete boxes built in the ground, tested to withstand even the most powerful tornadoes. We get a tour this hour on CNN.


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Just incredible stories. Good morning. Welcome to the special edition of EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin in New York.

BERMAN (on-camera): And I'm John Berman alongside Chris Cuomo out here in Moore, Oklahoma. It is 6:00 a.m. in the East. This morning, the city is really making the difficult transition from search and rescue to recovery. They said that transition happened overnight. The death toll now stands at 24. City officials tell us that number is not expected to rise.

The National Weather Service now confirms that the twister that tore this town apart was an EF-5. That is the highest on the scale. It does not go higher than that. They measured winds looking at the destruction here that topped 210 miles per hour, one of the most powerful storms ever to hit this country. CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: One of the things people have to keep in mind, unlike hurricanes where we measure the storm, here you have to survey the damage. That's how they make the determination about the power of the particular tornado. So it makes sense it took them sometime.

But it also frankly makes sense that the number of casualties and the lives lost were adjusted. Communication was so tornadic yesterday that the idea that names were repeated, multiple sources were counted as different sources by the government makes a lot of sense.

So this isn't -- there's no finger pointing and let's be honest, the number being adjusted down is a welcome correction from state officials. So we were very happy about that. One of the things that we struggle with here on the ground is to get a sense of scope and scale of this.

When you see one home blown apart after another after another, it's difficult to capture this for what it is. So we go up in the helicopter as we do all the time here and you get such a different sense, the intentionality, the randomness of who lived and who didn't, of which houses survived and which didn't, the actual path of the tornado.

It's very clear from above and it is an important thing to see, to understand just what more went through here in Oklahoma. Take a look.


CUOMO: Right now, we are flying at 2,500 feet above the ground. Scientists say debris from the tornado could hit 10 times as high as we are right now into the air. Look at the trees, it looks like people pulled them up and laid them down there just like they were weeding their garden. The cars were just littered along the trail. They were never there. They were tossed like toys. You can trace with your finger the line where the tornado went.


CUOMO: It's just as definite as that. It is as if someone took an eraser to a drawing that a kid had made and just decided to erase through it.

BERMAN: Those trees, you were saying, these trees were huge. It was a row of trees that were just down, one after the other like dominos there.

CUOMO: Old growth trees. I think the most startling thing is because you get the sense. You see what happened. You understand the splinter effect of the tornado. But where it struck and where it did not and then understanding that, in 1999, 2003 and again now, almost the same path it took through Moore.

BERMAN: Some 2,400 homes damaged or destroyed in the storm. We're told that some 10,000 people were impacted directly by the tornado that ripped through here on Monday. Those are big number. It's hard sometimes to comprehend what exactly that means.

But I have been in this neighborhood now that we are standing in since yesterday and I had a chance to walk around here and talk to the people. What you really see here is you simply see these small examples that show you how big the impact was. Let's look.


BERMAN (voice-over): Just one street, just one neighborhood, but countless reminders of the enormity of what happened here. A living room set with no living room, a minivan in the space that defies the laws of physics.

(on camera): We 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 site I want to show, which you give you a sense of the damage that this storm could do. It's a simple, small image is this it's a toy, 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, spheres sticking out of the ground.

(on camera): And in the middle of all this debris, in the middle of all this smock, in the middle of all this lives that has 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.

RICHARD JONES, OKLAHOMA TORNADO VICTIM: Right in here, in this bathtub here. The two youngest grandkids, I laid over them, my daughter 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: It is unreal. It sound like the whole house was being ripped apart. I was just waiting to suck out at any moment. I knew the house was destroyed. You could hear the glass breaking, shattering. It was unreal, very unreal.

BERMAN: How long did it last?

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

BERMAN: When you came out, what did you think about what you saw?

JONES: I don't know how we lived. I mean, you can go outside and see the destruction. It's unreal. Luckily, we are all here and alive.


BERMAN: You know, Richard Jones was there with his entire family. We met a number of families here who were digging through the rubble of their houses. What was so amazing to me, Chris, is their spirits were actually high. For everything they've lost, what they all talked about was how lucky they were to still have each other.

CUOMO: How much of it do you think was cultural, that they know that this happens here and how much of it do you think was just resolve?

BERMAN: It's really to say that. I know you've talked to a lot of people here in this town. They have all been through this before. I think that prepared them in some way not just for the disaster as it came, but for how to recover from it. They have recovered before so they know that they can do it. That may be one reason again that the spirit seems so high.

CUOMO: They know they can do it. I think that is the key. That was a great piece.

Now one of the things that we know that they are dealing with here on the ground you can rebuild homes and rebuild your life. It's very impossible for us to replace loved ones especially when they are children. That's one of the difficult things that we've all been witnessing here.

We do know that nine kids were killed, seven at one school, Plaza Towers, an elementary school. Now one of the kids who lost their lives was 9-year-old's Jenae Hornsby. Her family spoke with CNN.

Nick Valencia is now live from Moore City Hall with more on her story -- Nick.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chris, in a situation like this, any life lost is one too many especially when you think about those nine precious children that perished in the elementary school. The father of one those victims, 9-year-old Jenae Hornsby spoke to Anderson Cooper.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My heart just sank. I started worrying and panicking. I just needed to find my baby. I kept waiting and hoping to find her. I was looking through the other kids that had already gotten out and waiting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is no other kid like her. We are a unique bunch. She is all of our uniqueness involved into one. She is the sweetest thing, the bossiest thing, the most fun, always trying to make us laugh, a sweet baby, sweet baby.


VALENCIA: The family said they were holding out hope. It was yesterday morning when they received the news, Chris, that no parent ever wants to receive.

CUOMO: There's no question about that, Nick. Let me ask you something, looking at now the unknown. People who might be missing, might not be missing, what is the latest on that?

VALENCIA: Well, I spoke to a handful of people who say their family are still missing. What makes this matter even worse it that it's not just people in Oklahoma that are looking for their loved ones, it's people all across the United States.

I spoke to a woman yesterday who is in Gleason, Tennessee watching this all unfold. She says she has not been able to get in touch with her sister.


ERICA SANDOVAL, SISTER SANDY IS MISSING: My mind is everywhere. I was -- my boss actually pulled up the site. She did that for me because I can't think straight. I'm kind of in a fog. I don't want to believe that. I don't, but, you know, I can't reach her. I can't find her. I don't know where she is. I don't know if she could get to me or get a hold of me or anything to let me know she's OK.


VALENCIA: Chris, for those like Erica Sandoval who are looking for their loved ones, there are some pages, social media pages out there that are helping reconnect family with their loved ones. One is on Facebook, that's mooretornadolostandfound. There's also another web site

So we hope on the case of Erica Sandoval that she gets back in touch with her sister Sandy Kirk Myer and for those that believed that their families are missing, our hearts and prayers are certainly with them this morning -- Chris.

CUOMO: Absolutely. Nick, thank you for that. We'll be back with you later on.

BERMAN: It's not easy to get in touch with people. The cell services have been spotty, hard to get on the phone and so many people lost their cars. It's not you can't just get in your car and drive somewhere if your car has been destroyed. So it's just one of the challenges facing so many people here.

As we told you, you know, this was a powerful, powerful storm. The National Weather Service revised the strength of this twister. They revised it up. They say the winds topped 200 miles per hour making it one of the strongest storms really ever to hit the country.

We're joined now by meteorologist, Indra Petersons, at the CNN Weather Center in Atlanta. Indra, explain to us again, how they determine the strength of a tornado.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, absolutely. One of the biggest things I want to point out, people are talking the EF-5 damage. That doesn't mean every point along the path was EF-5. We'll show some video here, as I kind of explain to you that along the path of the tornado, you can have points that are EF-0 and EF-1.

There can be points with EF-5. Now what I was explaining earlier, as this tornado is coming at you. We see the live video. A lot of helicopters can get footage. People say why aren't you telling us that this is an EF-5? We don't know yet.

At this point, everything happened so fast. The explosive nature of these storms can happen so fast that we have to go out and survey the damage afterwards. We have a chart that tells us. We look at every little piece of damage and say that's probably 200-mile-an-hour wind that caused that kind of damage.

And that's what we look at. Let me show you the chart here behind me and you can see, it's at 200-mile-an-hour winds. That is when we start getting that EF-5 range, that is the highest range. That's the damage we're looking at.

But I want to show you on Google, not everything was EF-5. We start with a lighter strength tornado and it builds up. As we got towards Briarwood Elementary, it was EF-5 damage and then of course, it weakened again.

So as you can tell the majority of this really was an EF-5, but there are points within it. So a lot of times that does cause confusion. I do want to make sure everyone knows today we continue to talk about the path, but it's still important, of course, to know the severe weather threat remains today.

It looks like still the majority of this likely to be strong winds and hail, strength diminished a little bit, but not ruling out tornadoes, either -- John and Chris.

BERMAN: All right, so be on the lookout. Again, a large part of this country, heed those warnings. Thanks a lot, Indra Peterson in Atlanta for us.

CUOMO: An important point about the path of this particular tornado. Indra was just showing us how it went from a 0 to a 5. The window was like 10 minutes. So it went from being gusty winds, something it all seemed before to something that was completely devastating. So even at 16-minute window, we talked about how long people had to adjust. It's actually even more compressed than that.

BERMAN: Yes, and don't bet on those things being weak. The minute you see it the strength could increase very, very quickly.

CUOMO: The abundance of caution is always the way to go.

We're going to take a break now. When we come back, we keep talking about how this place has seen tornadoes before, bad ones, 1999, 2003, now how about one family who lived through all of them, the Lambert family, here in Moore, Oklahoma. They survived the tornadoes and they will tell us how when we come back.


CUOMO: We are back in Moore, Oklahoma. One family, three terrifying tornadoes, the Lamberts have a lot to be thankful for. The family has been in Moore, Oklahoma for the past 21 years, lived through the deadly tornados that hit the town on May 3rd, 1999 and on May 8th, 2003. They are survivors, of course, of what happened yesterday as well, counting their blessing once again that everyone made it through unharmed.

Thank you very much. We have Al, Cecilia, Stephanie, Joseph, and Katlyn joining us.

Before we do anything, the young lady, her name, her middle name is May, yes?


CUOMO: Because you want to remember what happened. Why? I know you were in labor at the time?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not me, my sister.

CUOMO: Your sister was in labor at the time, that's how you got the middle name. But what does that mean about how important it is to the family that come through that you don't forget what happened here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Precisely, you learn through tragedy, amazing neighbors and most amazing people. It's something that's just absolutely wonderful about the city is we always come together.

CUOMO: What are you dealing with right now? What happened to the family Monday?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were separated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Separated and just trying to get together and find out where's everybody at. I was at work. And I just had to get down here. She was at the house. From where I was at, it looked like it destroyed the entire area.

BERMAN: Anybody's homes?


CUOMO: So, just damage? Things you can work with and get through. How long did it take to know the family was OK, intact?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two and a half hours after.

CUOMO: Not bad. I know a minute is too long.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. CUOMO: Compared to what it could be and has been for so many.

Now, if you compare this one to what you had to suffer through in 2003, 1999, what was the worst for your family?





CUOMO: What about them?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now, I'm a parent. I was at the school with my children when the tornado came through, so, just making sure that they were OK and the kids that are at the school were OK and the teachers did so great and kept them calm. It was a life saving --

CUOMO: There's something about when you worry about your kids, the vulnerability and how precious they are. You love your siblings and your in-laws, but you feel a protectiveness, the helplessness when you don't know what's going on.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are the protector. You have no control over this and you just have to pray that everybody is OK and have that faith that everybody is OK.

CUOMO: The mind set. One of the things people marvel at. You guys won't get it because you are from here. When people come and visit, they say, wow, they deal with so much in this community and they come back and they come back.

What is it that makes it OK, no pun intended with the state abbreviation, yes, this may happen, but we stay here, this is home -- what does the mind say?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just a community here. You take care of each other. It's the people here in Moore, we get together and take care of each other. That's what make as town, not houses, not, you know, you miss the houses. It's the people in the community.

CUOMO: Do you think people who grow up in a situation where there is risk, where you know what it's like to have loss, you think there's better appreciation here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most definitely.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Most definitely. Most definitely.

BERMAN: Young lady, what do you tell your friends when you say my middle name is May? That's a nice name. Just like the month. How do you explain it for them?

KATLYN MAY JACKSON, OKLAHOMA TORNADO SURVIVOR: I usually say my mom almost went into labor that night, they survived through it because even though --


JACKSON: My mom survived through it. I wasn't born until June 23rd.


CUOMO: How often have you heard this story growing up?


CUOMO: Does it come up when you do something good or when you are being a challenge? Don't you forget that I was in labor? Do you hear it that way once in a while?


CUOMO: Does it make you feel special to know who you are, that you made it through this before you were on your feet?


CUOMO: Standing in the situation we are in now, it is unreal for people that this can happen. I know we see it. You know, May is the month. Every year things happen.

But yet each time it happens, it's amazing what's lost and what isn't lost. We're talking about this tornado is terrible. EF-5, comparing it to the other big days.

When you think about who was lost here, do you feel that in some way we got lucky this time that --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We did. The number is at 24 right now. So much higher than we thought. I think the fact that we had some warning and that the prior tornadoes really helped because we knew we needed to take cover. We knew this is no joke. I think the prior two tornadoes helped those that have been through it know this is what we need to do.

CUOMO: What are you hearing from friends about what they are going through this time, what they need?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have friend that is have lost family members. It's really hard and difficult for them, but they are so appreciative of those who help them. They appreciate those who went in and got their mom.

Prayers. Right now, that's what she needs. The strength. She knows she has the faith. She's just trying to find the strength.

CUOMO: What is the first step, the second step, what is the third step of coming out of what your friend has to deal with that kind of loss?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, basically one day, one prayer at a time. You know, that's the first step. There's no more I don't know, guessing, are you okay, where is he, where is she, you know.

CUOMO: As hard as it is to know, at least you know.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At least you know. That right there says a lot. That right there allows her to start her grieving. I think it's so much better to know than not.

CUOMO: 1999, 2003, now this one, does it raise any question in your mind, if you would want to live somewhere else?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is our town. This is our city. This is where we were raised. We are Oklahomans through and through. They say we are morons (ph).

CUOMO: Moore-ons? You have to come up with a better name than that.

It should be like super Moore. I don't know --


CUOMO: That's the first thing you said that makes no sense to me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's what people say, she's from Moore, she's a moron.

CUOMO: They better say it with a smile on their face.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They do. It's a good joke.

CUOMO: I'm sorry for what your friends are dealing with, but I'm very happy that I meet you all this way and that you made it through this one. And hopefully three is enough.


CUOMO: Especially for people of faith, three is a good number. It's a big number. Hopefully, it's enough this time.

Thank you very much. I wish the best for your friends. And please, you know, this time -- the media is here to help. So, hopefully, we can get the word out of what's needed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, people are asking for gift cards instead of supplies because they've got so many supplies, it's hard for them to move. So, I have been telling my friends on Facebook, gift cards, cash, anything they can physically give, whichever.

But, I have several people, this is my old neighborhood, I knew a lot of these people. I know a lot of them, they lost everything but they have their families. So, that's all that --

CUOMO: Guys, how long does it take you now? What have you figured out? How long will it for this to be cleaned up and started rebuilding?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Each time we were hit, it took about six months to get back to our house.

CUOMO: Six full months?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And usually, six months to a year before the neighborhood gets --

CUOMO: So, the need doesn't stop. There's plenty of time to get involved.

Thank you all for being here. You heard, gift cards are great., you can go there and find ways to help families in need for east six months.

Thank you very much. God bless your families.

Zoraida, back to you in New York.

SAMBOLIN: Really great advice that she gave us. Thank you for that, Chris.

Twenty-three minutes past the hour. Other stories to tell you about this morning. Developing this morning on the investigation of the deadly attacks on U.S. diplomats in Benghazi Libya. A senior Republican lawmaker tells CNN that investigators now have names to go with photographs of people who may have been involved in the attack. The lawmaker could not say how many people had been identified.

And jurors will be back in court 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 she could make a difference in prison teaching fellow inmates how to read, helping victims of domestic violence and 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 any idea 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 changed her mind after speaking with her family.

And new this morning, Anthony Weiner is not letting a few lewd messages he posted keep him from seeking post. Just after midnight, the former New Yorker congressman placed the first ad for his mayoral campaign. It is on YouTube.

In the two-minute video, you see Weiner strolling through the Brooklyn neighborhood where he grew up. He even acknowledges, sort of, the troubles that shut down his rise to stardom.


ANTHONY WEINER (D), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Look, I made big mistakes and I know I let a lot of people down. But I've also learned some tough lessons. I'm running for mayor because I've been fighting for the middle class and those struggling to make it my entire life. And I hope I get a second chance to work for you.


SAMBOLIN: At the end of the video, it features Weiner sitting on a stoop of a house with his wife Huma Abedin, who has stood by him.

And coming up, we're back live in Moore, Oklahoma, with a story of survival. One woman's encounter with an EF-5 tornado and her desperate search for her long time companion as well.

You are watching EARLY START.