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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

FEMA Deployed To Oklahoma City; Terrifying "Perfect" Storm; Oklahoma Tornado; Benghazi Attack Investigation; Eric Garcetti Wins L.A. Mayor's Race; A Family's Grief

Aired May 22, 2013 - 07:30   ET

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


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CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to a special edition of STARTING POINT. We are live from Moore, Oklahoma where 56,000 proud, God-fearing people are doing their best to pick up the pieces of their lives less than 48 hours after a twister packing winds of over 200- mile-an-hour winds brought them to their knees. Monday storm is going into the books as one of the most powerful in this country's record as the search and rescue here transitions into recovery operation.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The National Weather Service now confirming that the 1.3-mile wide tornado that blew through here Monday afternoon killing 24 people. They now have confirmed it was an EF-5 tornado. The scale does not go higher than 5, left 2,400 homes damaged. 10,000 people directly affected by the storm. Damage is expected to top $1 billion.

I want to show you video right now of the storm. You can see the funnel cloud just forming 7 minutes after the tornado warning was issued by the National Weather Service on Monday. Within minutes, we're talking what, 6 minutes?

CUOMO: A 10-minute window from gusting winds birthing the tornado to this tornado having the ability to destroy everything in its path.

BERMAN: And that happened so fast, and then of course, you have seen the path here in Moore, Oklahoma.

CUOMO: So now the big federal agency dealing with this, of course, is FEMA, right, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They have already deployed over 300 officials to the affected area. FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate is with us now from Oklahoma City. Mr. Fugate, can you hear us? Great.

CRAIG FUGATE, ADMINISTRATOR, FEMA: Yes, I can.

CUOMO: All right, it's great to have you with us. What can you tell us about the situation on the ground and how you are managing the needs of the people in this community going forward?

FUGATE: Well, as you pointed out, search and rescue teams have about completed their job. Now it's really start those initial steps to recovery. For folks who didn't have insurance, we are going out and getting them assistance as far as temporary housing assistance. We are asking people to register with FEMA at 1-800-621-FEMA or go to disasterassistance.gov. But we also know there are areas that don't have phones yet. The cell service is still out in some areas. So we got teams going in starting yesterday afternoon today. We are going neighborhood to neighborhood to make sure people are getting the help they need.

BERMAN: We are standing in one of those neighborhoods, Mr. Fugate, that has simply been leveled here, homes around us all destroyed. We have talked to a lot of families who have been left homeless. What kind of long term measures will you implement or help implement here to give these people housing and shelter?

FUGATE: Well, the first steps again will be -- there's an ability to get them assistance right now where they can get money to go rent a place for the next couple of months and then we will work with them. If they didn't have insurance, but also work with our partner agencies like HUD and a lot of the volunteer agencies on what it takes to rebuild homes back in these neighborhoods.

CUOMO: When this community starts to come together, more and more questions are going to come, Mr. Fugate, about what can be done going forward to keep people safe in situations. Argument can be made that the numbers here of loss ultimately are fairly low given the destructive properties of this tornado. But what do you think going forward about safe rooms, about more shelters in schools. What do you think about that?

FUGATE: We support it. Again, here in Oklahoma, they have received over past disasters applied over $57 million to safe rooms in homes and schools, over 10,000 have been built, more than any other state. But again, every time a disaster happens, there's more calls for this.

It's not only the building safe rooms, making sure they are built to the right standards. So we're very supportive of the International Code Council adopting standards to make sure if somebody sells or says they build a safe room, it's actually a safe room designed for these types of events. We want to make sure that people are getting what they are paying for and they get the protection that is being built.

BERMAN: It's important to point out there, different kinds of state rooms. Make sure you are getting the right kind. Mr. Administrator, a lot of politics had been wrapped up in disaster relief aid. We're told here that the damage has top $1 billion. Are you confident that FEMA will get the type of money it needs to help Moore, Oklahoma rebuild and not get caught up in the politics?

FUGATE: Knowing how this works, look at the funding we've already received. We got full allocation last year with the Sandy supplemental funds. We are looking at the funds to continue the response here as well as the previous disasters. Again, if we have another hurricane, we may need more money. But right now, we are in good shape to support the response here as well as the rebuilding in Sandy and other disasters.

CUOMO: One of the concerns on the ground, Mr. Fugate, is about staying power. The media is here. There's a lot of attention. The president is talking about it. You all are here. But one month, three months, five months down the road, the need is still great. Will the commitment be the same?

FUGATE: It will be the same as we have been everywhere else. Like we told the folks in Joplin two years ago, we are not going anywhere until the work is done. Two years later, we are still helping them rebuild. So we don't leave when the cameras leave, we stay until the job is done.

BERMAN: Craig Fugate, FEMA Administrator, thank you so much for being with us. We know you are here on the ground serving the damage here. The need is great. We are grateful that you are helping provide those in need here. Thank you so much.

FUGATE: Thank you.

BERMAN: As we told you, the National Weather Service revised the strength of this twister. They are now calling it an EF-5, winds topping 200 miles per hour making one of the strongest storms ever to hit the U.S.

We are joined now by meteorologist, Indra Petersons. She is at the CNN Weather Center in Atlanta. Indra, spell it out for us again. How exactly do they determine the strength of a tornado?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely. It's one of those big misconceptions. We have already seen video over and over again where this thing starts out small and it grows so fast. That's the reason we can't tell you ahead of time that there's a huge tornado out there. They cycle, they grow. They may intensify then they weaken.

You can see that so clearly here in this map. How do we figure out the damage? We go out afterwards. We survey the damage and say it probably took 200-mile-per-hour winds for this type of damage to occur and then we chart that out.

So that's the National Weather Service have done. The survey team has preliminary gone out and they can see that we are seeing some EF-5 damage. They have found that right around Briarwood Elementary School. You saw it clearly on the path there that not every location on the path had that kind of intensity.

One thing I did want to point out here is the Moore Medical Center, notice around it. We are seeing EF-3 damage, very close to where you are standing. I want to show you right now one of the ways we look at that. Now here is the before picture of the Moore Medical Center. Let me show you what it looks like after.

One of the things we look for, for an EF-5 winds here, is to be able to see the damage or two-story buildings completely eliminated. It had trouble moving forward. Unfortunately, we did have some great shots here. You are seeing portions of the medical center standing. It's not what we are currently seeing right now. That's the reason it's not an EF-5. There you go. You can see we are still seeing some of the structure intact. Let me show you that before for you one more time. You can see you have the two-story building. Then when I do the second after you can tell that is not completely demolished. That's the reason it's an EF-3.

So I really want you guys to look around, John and Chris, where you are standing right now. It's easy to say, yes, we had it as an EF-5 damage, but those winds are only about 160 miles to 200 miles per hour. The winds are way stronger than that. That damage you are currently seeing, if you spin around, that is not EF-5.

BERMAN: No, we do see walls standing here. There are some parts of this neighborhood where there's nothing left, but there are walls standing where we are right now. So, Indra, you are absolutely right. EF-5 is very, very strong only in certain parts of the line of this storm.

CUOMO: I think when you live through something like this and your house is destroyed, you don't care what EF it is.

BERMAN: That's a great point also. It doesn't mean anything to you when your house is in rubble. Ahead on STARTING POINT, five days after receiving a C-section, one woman had to race into her car with her newborn to flee the oncoming tornado.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fight or flight instinct, that's like you either stand there and stare at it in fear or you get in the car and go.

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BERMAN: This is an amazing story. Her terrifying escape next. You are watching STARTING POINT.

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CUOMO: The relief effort is now under way here in Moore, Oklahoma. FEMA officials and Red Cross workers have been arriving in force here on the ground.

BERMAN: More city officials are telling us that financial donations are really the best way to help people who live outside -- really the best to help people in Moore, if you live outside this town. Other things they need here flashlights, batteries even tetanus shots because of the rusty nails and twisted metals everywhere. People are exposed to all that as they try to help pick through the pieces here.

Pamela Brown joins us now live. Pamela, you have been covering some of the relief efforts.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I have. It's incredible to see the outpouring of people just wanting to help. Everywhere you go it seems like there are donation baskets and people just really wanting to help. There's been an incredible showing of resolve, strength resilient to the wake of so much tragedy.

We have been speaking to so many survivors with so many different stories including a new mother trying to save herself and her 5-day old baby when the tornado hit.

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BROWN (voice-over): Candace Phillips cradles her 6-day-old baby Connor in her arms overcome with emotion and gratitude for this moment.

CANDACE PHILLIPS, ESCAPED DEADLY TORNADO: Yes, I was wondering, you know, if I was going to be able to, you know, see him grow up if the tornado was going 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 tornado carved a path of catastrophic destruction in Moore, Oklahoma.

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

BROWN: Packed in the truck with her brother, mother and little Connor 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 toward them.

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

BROWN (on camera): It looked like it was right on the path to you?

PHILLIPS: Yes, it did. It did.

BROWN (voice-over): Candy and her boyfriend say they missed the tornado by mere seconds and watched as a 7-11 was leveled.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If I would have waited 10 seconds we would have been gone. I had my little 5-year-old between my legs on the floor. We just barely --

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. That's what we are known for, come back and arms swinging.

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

GOVERNOR MARY FALLIN (R), OKLAHOMA: We will rebuild. We have seen time and time again the strength of our people, the courage, and the perseverance. We have come back much stronger after the tragedies we have 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 had no complaints.

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: She said that little Connor actually slept through the entire ordeal. You can imagine what a story she has to tell her little boy one day.

CUOMO: They will always have this moment together. She has what matters most. Pamela, thank you very much.

BERMAN: What a lovely story.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, we are learning more about the people who are not so lucky, the people who lost their lives in this tornado. We are going to hear from the parents of 9-year-old Jenae Hornsby who was inside the Plaza Towers Elementary School when it took a direct hit. She did not survive. What they say about their little girl. You are watching STARTING POINT.

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CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Welcome back to STARTING POINT. New developments this morning in the investigation into the deadly attacks 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.

New this morning, City Councilman Eric Garcetti has defeated Comptroller Wendy Gruel to become the next mayor of Los Angeles. Garcetti, a Democrat, will replace outgoing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The final tally gave Garcetti a 54 percent of the vote and Gruel 46 percent. He'll be L.A.'s first Jewish mayor.

Garcetti sent out this message to his Twitter followers, quote, "Thank you, Los Angeles, the hard work begins, but I am honored to lead this city for the next four years. Let's make this a great city again."

Let's go to Chris and John now in Oklahoma, who are following the aftermath of that powerful, powerful tornado earlier this week. Hi, guys.

CUOMO: All right, thanks, Christine. The slow painful process of recovery is beginning now for people who have lost so much here. For families like the Hornsbys, this is an especially painful time. The 9-year-old Jenae was a third grader at Plaza Towers Elementary School. She is one of the kids that didn't survive when the tornado hit.

Anderson Cooper spoke with Jenae's father, an Iraq war vet and her aunt.

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COOPER: When you first saw her, what did you think?

JOSHUA HORNSBY, JENAE'S FATHER: My heart just sank and I started worrying and panicking. I just needed to find my baby. I just kept waiting and hoping that I would find her. I was looking through the other kids that already had gotten out and just waiting.

COOPER: When did you get word about her?

JOSHUA HORNSBY: This morning.

COOPER: Where were you? What happened?

JOSHUA HORNSBY: I was at First Baptist Church. They had opened a shelter for parents that hadn't found their kids.

COOPER: What do you want people to know about your daughter?

JOSHUA HORNSBY: Just she was the best kid anybody could have. She was -- she was Jenae. She was, you know, a ball of energy, a ball of love.

COOPER: Your face lights up when you are saying her name.

JOSHUA HORNSBY: That's my baby.

COOPER: You're nodding your head.

ANGELA HORNSBY, JENAE'S AUNT: Because, I mean, there is no other kid like her. We're a unique bunch and she is all of our uniqueness balled up into one and I mean, she's the sweetest thing, the bossiest thing, the most fun, always trying to make us laugh and just a sweet baby, sweet baby.

COOPER: Does it seem real yet?

JOSHUA HORNSBY: No. It still isn't sunk in. I'm still hoping, you know, for that call to say we made a mistake. I just pray that that's what it is. That's all I can hope for, but just got to take it as it is.

COOPER: How do you face something like this?

JOSHUA HORNSBY: Just got to face it minute by minute, day by day. There's no way to face it. Just got to be strong and carry on.

COOPER: Does it seem real to you?

ANGELA HORNSBY: At moments. You know, when it hurts, it feels real. But then when I can laugh and talk, it's not real anymore, not something that happened. It hurts and the pain is real. The pain is real and I have a daughter who is 14.

COOPER: How did you tell your daughter?

ANGELA HORNSBY: Honestly, I broke down and she was nearby and I don't think she knew was it a relief sob or a pained sob, and then she asked me is she OK and I told her she didn't make it.

JOSHUA HORNSBY: Life is not fair. You just got to take what life gives you, you know what I mean? I can sit and dwell on it and you know, let it ruin me or I can, you know, make my baby proud and keep pushing on like I know she would want me to do.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CUOMO: Every loss of a child like that changes a family forever.

BERMAN: It's hard to hear.

CUOMO: It really is, and it gives you perspective on why people who lost a home know so much more could be sacrificed in a storm like this. As we are following what happens with the tornado here in Moore, Oklahoma and hearing the stories of loss, the worst is the children, but so much damage and so little time. We'll take you up into the sky for a look overhead where you can really clearly see this tornado's path.

BERMAN: And also continue to hear the stories of the heroes in the disaster, there were so many. We're going to meet a doctor who saved lives moments before the tornado ripped her hospital to shreds. It's an amazing story. You're watching a special edition of STARTING POINT, live from Moore, Oklahoma.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN (voice-over): From search and rescue to recovery. The operation refocuses from looking for survivors to searching for bodies in Oklahoma. This hour on CNN, we'll take you on a tour of the swath of destruction.

CUOMO: Look at the trees, it looks like people pulled them up and laid them down there just like they were weeding their garden. But those are huge, old root pinetrees.

BERMAN: And first on CNN, one of the ER doctors who helped evacuate hundreds of patients from the Moore Medical Center.