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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Tornado Devastates Oklahoma Town; Man Linked with Boston Bombing Suspect in Murder; Tornado Devastation in Oklahoma; Obama to Deliver National Security Speech;

Aired May 23, 2013 - 07:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Picking up the pieces, survivors return searching for a shred of normalcy. Some lost their homes, others lost their lives. One elementary school flattened, unrecognizable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of 460-something students. Unfortunately, we did lose seven. But by looking at the damage, it's a miracle that we didn't lose a lot more.

BERMAN: Complete devastation. One Oklahoma town in shambles with an entire country ready to lend a hand, ready to help rebuild Moore, Oklahoma.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, we're going to help them recover. We're going to help them rebuild for as long as it takes. And eventually, life will go on. And new memories will be made, new laughter will come, new songs will be sung.

BERMAN: Survivors recount each moment. It is shocking, raw, and heartbreaking.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The wall just kind of hanged down on me and it just kind of swirled. And I held on to my husband as long as I could. And he just flew into space. And I don't know where he went.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN (on-camera): And I'm John Berman. It is Thursday, May 23rd. And we do begin here in Moore, Oklahoma, where I have to tell you it's been raining very, very hard here. You may see some lightning behind me. It's been 72 hours since that tornado of epic proportions tore through this town. And this morning, the search for survivors is officially over. And emergency crews are shifting into full recovery mode. The rain and lightning will not help that today.

This is the latest. We've now learned that some 13,000 homes were damaged, destroyed, or affected by this storm. Thousands of people here are waking up homeless this morning, staying with friends or family, in hotels. State insurance officials tell us that claims are expected to top $2 billion. It's easy to see how you get to that number when you look at the destruction here.

Plus, you know, today was supposed to be the last day of school here in Moore, Oklahoma. Today, the kids at Plaza Towers Elementary School, they were supposed to attend an end of the year talent show. Instead, students will just say goodbye to their teachers for the summer. The funeral for little Antonia Candelaria (ph) is scheduled for today. She is survived by her mother and her father and two sisters. She was just 9 years old.

Everyone who was missing in the aftermath of the tornado is now accounted for. The official death toll stands at 24. That number not expected to change. Ten of those killed, 10 of them were children. And the challenge ahead of this town of 56,000 people, the challenge will be long and it will be daunting.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: Officials now estimate the twister damaging or destroying more than 13,000 homes causing up to $2 billion in damage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God.

BERMAN: Volunteers from all over the country are now in Oklahoma to help those in greatest need, like this Pennsylvania man and his team who traveled here at the first sign of trouble.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fortunately we were monitoring weather patterns and realized that this storm was going to happen. When the storm happened we were only two hours out and were able to bring in almost $2 million of equipment within two hours after the storm touched down here.

BERMAN: As survivors pick up the pieces a memorial service is scheduled this weekend to remember the 24 lives lost, including the seven children killed at the plaza towers elementary school. The tragedy at the school is raising more questions about why schools don't have safe rooms for shelter.

MAYOR GLENN LEWIS, MOORE, OKLAHOMA: Anybody that lives in any tornado area should have one, but it's just a matter of cost. You know, there will be more people after this tornado that buy them and have them put in. So we'll have more as soon as this is done.

BERMAN: The mayor confirmed that all of the missing are now accounted for. At the city cemetery, hundreds of volunteers gathered with shovels and rakes to clean up for upcoming funerals. President Obama will visit the tornado-ravaged area on Sunday. At a White House event Wednesday night the president reiterated his support.

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: While the road ahead will be long, their country will be with them every single step of the way.

BERMAN: For every story of destruction there are so many more of selflessness and heroism. At this day care center flattened by the monstrous winds, all of the toddlers and workers survived in a bathroom. Paramedic Lisa Lester described what she encountered as she drove up to help the wounded.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They were just covered in mud from head to toe. All you could see was the whites of their eyes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She squeezed them all in this ambulance, 18 people in all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that legal?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lisa reunited with one of the women she helped that day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So glad I got to see you. I wanted to get your name.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I couldn't remember yours and I looked at the paper, it was Shannon. I'm so happy. I'm glad you're OK. I'm so happy. Thank you so much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: Just one of the many heroes here. You know, since the moment the tornado struck so much of the focus has been on the Plaza Towers Elementary School that was simply flattened by the tornado and seven of the children who were killed were killed there. I'm joined now by CNN's John King. You got a remarkable close-up look at the devastation there.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a wasteland. It's numbing. It's sad when you get to it. You imagine, this was a place of laughter and learning. On a full day, more than 400 students in this school, plus the teachers. The elementary school is the heart of any community, going through their normal day, about a 15-minute warning for the teachers to grab all those students and get them shelter. Sadly, not that many safe options.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING: In terms of when people first responded here, I mean, where did everybody go?

SGT. JEREMY LEWIS, MOORE, OKLAHOMA POLICE DEPARTMENT: We basically just surrounded the school. Some of this has been cleaned out due to the search and rescue efforts. They were literally just climbing over debris. People were yelling for help, so just pulling people out as quickly as possible. And that went on literally for hours.

KING: This was a hall of classrooms that led to --

LEWIS: Classrooms on each side.

KING: That was connected.

LEWIS: There was a wall there. That was a classroom straight ahead. There were classrooms out here. You can see there's still tile.

KING: Right. This is gone.

LEWIS: This classroom is gone. These classrooms are all gone.

KING: There are more on the front side here, too. Anywhere we see the tile --

LEWIS: You can see the door into what was the classroom.

KING: The back wall of the classroom, yes, the board. And that's the front wall of the school there?

LEWIS: Front wall would have been right there, yes.

KING: Is there a place in the school where people fared better, for lack of a better way to put it?

LEWIS: Well, you can just kind of see where there's still walls standing up. Obviously that corner, the main part of the tornado came through this way. So this is the area that took the most as it went through this part here. So that's -- you can just kind of see where the walls are standing and where they're not.

Of 460-something students, unfortunately we did lose seven. By looking at the damage, it's a miracle that we didn't lose a lot more. And none of this has been touched. This is what it looked like. There hasn't been tractors moving anything. This is how it landed.

KING: People have been through it and reasonably certain no one is left?

LEWIS: Yes, it has all been searched. That's what has taken so long. We went through all of this. This goes 15 miles the other way.

KING: It's 15 miles?

LEWIS: Just like this.

KING: It's 15 miles of just like this, yes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: You go through that neighborhood as the officer told us, 15 miles, 15 miles, everything is flattened. Some of the vehicles in that neighborhood come from miles away carried by the tornado. Everything is just out of place. It was tossed and thrown. If you imagine the school is shaped like a "u" and the two posts are essentially gone and straight cross bar, most of that is still there but the two arms of the school were just ripped off. This, of course, is going to renew the debate. It's an older school. No underground shelter. God bless the teachers and other people at that school who protected so many of the kids. Seven of the ten children perished there. It's going to be a big part of the rebuilding debate about should there have been a safe place.

BERMAN: Any child killed is too many. Seven is too many. It is remarkable so many lives were saved there.

KING: When you walk through there your mood just drops.

BERMAN: What an amazing look. John King, thank you so much.

There's a lot of other news going around in many places of the world. Let's get back to Christine Romans in New York with the other top stories.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Developing this morning, Britain on high alert this morning, fearing a terror attack after a soldier was run over and hacked to death in the street. A possible suspect literally with blood on his hands saying this was to avenge Muslims.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will never stop fighting until you leave us alone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: A little earlier this morning officials confirmed the victim was active duty, but they have not released his identity. And just like with the bombing in Boston police are acting for the public's help with this investigation. Let's go to Atika Shubert in London with the latest. Atika, we know an emergency government meeting wrapped up this morning and Prime Minister David Cameron just finished speaking at 10 Downing Street. What did he say?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, he has. He clearly condemned this attack and also tried to calm some of the angry tensions and fears. There's a lot of extra security on streets today. There's a helicopter overhead. I apologize for the noise. Let's take a quick listen to what Cameron said earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: What happened yesterday in Woolwich has sickened us all. On our televisions last night and in our newspapers this morning we have all seen images that are deeply shocking. The people who did this were trying to divide us. They should know something like this will only bring us together and make us stronger.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUBERT: Now, we've also heard from London's mayor Boris Johnson. He just a few minutes ago wrapped up a press conference here with police, basically also condemning the attack and saying the investigation is moving forward. But police do need time to really dig in and find out what was behind these attacks, how were they planned, how were they carried out.

What we do know is that two homes have been raided, one in east London, one in Lancaster, quite a bit of ways. And there police are going through and trying to find what they can, what they know about these two suspects that at this point have not been identified.

ROMANS: Atika, what do we know about the suspects? We have sort of this cellphone video of one of the men ranting, if you will. We could see video of the other man. What else do we know about them?

SHUBERT: You know, we do not have a confirmed name at this point. Clearly the authorities know who they are. Both of them are under arrest. They are being held in separate hospitals. They were seriously injured yesterday. What we know from the cellphones and what eyewitnesses say happened.

From the cellphone video you can see that one of them that is speaking to the camera in a broad London accent. This is somebody who clearly grew up here, possibly even somewhere local li. The other suspect, we don't know that much about.

But what's interesting is eyewitnesses say that they actually actively told bystanders to call the police. They said to call 999, get the police over here. And then when the police came, actually charged the police and actually attempted to shoot one of the officers, and before they were shot themselves and apprehended. This is all bizarre behavior, to say the least. And this is one of the things that they'll be looking for to clues as to the psychological state of mind of both of these young men.

Atika Shubert, we will continue to follow that and those developments today. Thank you, Atika.

ROMANS: Ahead, we're learning more about mysterious and deadly connections between the Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev and a man killed by the FBI yesterday. What did this man know about the bombings and what's the connection? You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. CNN has learned the dead Boston marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev has been linked to a gruesome 2011 triple murder. A law enforcement source says a Chechen man who was a friend of Tsarnaev's confessed to slashing the victims' throats, and he claims Tsarnaev also participated in those murders. That man, Ibragim Todashev, was killed yesterday during an alt altercation with an FBI agent. John Zarrella is live in Orlando with more details. Good morning.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. You know, it's been more than 24 hours since Todashev was shot by law enforcement authorities at his apartment here in Orlando. And you have to believe, because the crime scene is still active, that the FBI is going through everything in that apartment to find any links between Todashev and the Boston bombers to more than just the murder, and perhaps other people who they might find information on in the apartment.

But right now the only link between Todashev and one of the Boston bombers appears to be those murders.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZARRELLA: Sources tell CNN that this man, Ibragim Todashev, knew Boston bombing suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and that Todashev confessed to being, quote, "directly involved" in a brutal triply 2011 drug-related murder in Massachusetts. A federal law enforcement official tells CNN that Todashev also implicated Tamerlan Tsarnaev in the murders.

But Todashev is now dead, shot during questioning by an FBI agent and two Massachusetts state police officers in the kitchen of his Orlando apartment. Law enforcement sources told CNN Todashev had confessed to his role in the triple murder, then became violent and attacked the FBI agent. He was then shot and killed. A friend said Todashev knew the bombing suspects, but that was all.

KHASUEN TARAMOV, SUSPECT'S FRIEND: He knew them back like two years ago, back when he used to live in Boston. And he knew them. And he didn't -- he wasn't like real close friends. He just happened to know them. And I guess that was his fault, mistake. But he had no idea that they were up to something like that, like bombing and everything, you know what I mean?

ZARELLA: Now dead, Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev knew one of the Waltham, Massachusetts victims. The FBI is now checking to see if they can match his and Todashev's DNA to the crime scene.

There were other connections between the two men. Sources tell CNN they came from the same region of Chechnya. Todashev lived in Boston two years ago. Both men were in mixed martial arts at a studio in Boston and on a mixed martial arts website. Tamerlan tsarnaev's phone number was found in Todashev's cell.

Earlier this month Todashev was charged with aggravated battery after, according to Orlando police, getting in a fight over a parking space at a local mall. While it appears Todashev was a violent man, his connection to the bombing suspects may go no further than a drug murder case and friendship.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZARELLA: Now, the friends of Todashev's have said that he had been looked at by the FBI and they had already started talking with him and interviewing him within just days of the Boston bombings. Christine?

ROMANS: John Zarrella, thanks.

Urgent reminder from the man in charge of getting compensation to the victims of the Boston bombing. Kenneth Feinberg says victims and their families have until June 15th to apply for their share of the Boston One fund. That fund currently stands at $31 million.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, President Obama laying out his counter terrorism agenda today with several of his tactics under scrutiny, including his drone policy, what can we expect him to say? You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Severe weather hitting Oklahoma right now. Our own John Berman who is live on the ground there, we've lost his shot because of the severe weather that's moving through. For the latest on this incoming storm is our Indra Petersons. So John -- it's raining real hard, now we've lost our shot. Severe weather there. You've got it on the map.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, unfortunately. This is what we've been talking about all morning long, Christine. Now a severe thunderstorm warning in the area. Look at the cells developing quickly. Notice all the lightning in the area. Definitely some cells out there.

What we're currently seeing is one of these cells is moving about 35 miles per hour. The potential is out there for a half dollar size hail. So again, keep in mind, we're not just talking about rain, potential for hail. When you see thunderstorm warnings like this we talk about wind as well. So that debris is already out there. We will have to watch for stronger winds out there, potentially blowing some of the debris around.

Definitely going to be using caution in the Moore area. This is something they're going to be dealing with all weekend long, through Memorial Day weekend they're going to be dealing with that. Severe weather from the original system also pushing into the northeast today. The slight risk area is there for us but also a new warning area right in Oklahoma. Also in the Texas panhandle as well today. So that's what we're going to be watching.

Amarillo and western portions of Oklahoma looking for that slight risk. Not only tornadoes again, but these large thunderstorms just kind of exploding out there. The large hail, those strong winds and downward winds. We're looking at those as well. Sometimes those can produce damage as well. That's a definite serious outlook for you today.

We're talking about the forecast. Today is not the only day they're going to see this. We're trying to do the cleanup efforts in the area, but look at this. Thunderstorms in the forecast for the next several days. It doesn't look like they're get that break out there. Temperatures are moderate. That's a little bit misleading. But as long as you have those strong winds out there they're still dealing with a little bit of sense of urgency out there.

Otherwise is story is that same low remember that produced all the activity on the plains, that low has so much cold air associated with it it's going to be pulling off to the northeast today and that's going to bring us the chance of severe weather in our area. One of the things we are looking at though is the potential for a hint of snow in the upper elevations. Hard to believe there's so much cold out there. Upper peaks. That's how strong that system was that was in the plains that we could be talking about snow even at these elevations. Overall, the big story is that we continue to talk about, unfortunately the severe weather is not dying down in that part of the country, and not for several days. ROMANS: Reminder to be careful because a third of injuries happen in the days after the tornado as people are cleaning up and there's all that debris there and it is still quite dangerous. Thanks, Indra.

President Obama delivering a major speech today about terror policy and the future of drones. It comes one day after the administration said four Americans have been killed in drone strikes overseas since 2009. Let's check in with CNN White House correspondent Dan Lothian. Good morning, Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. This is a highly anticipated speech. We expect the president to announce new restrictions on how those controversial drone strikes can take place. This as the White House lays out what one official describes as a framework for the president's counter terrorism strategy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: Hours before President Obama delivers a major national security speech, his administration is now acknowledging that the U.S. killed four Americans in drone strikes. The government admitted to the killings in a letter Wednesday to Congress. Of the four, only Anwar al-Awlawki was actually targeted in September 2011 in Yemen. The others were in the wrong place at the wrong time. American drones have aggressively chased terrorists from the mountains of Pakistan to the desert of Yemen. High-tech warfare consistently defended by the Obama administration.

JOHN BRENNAN, CIA DIRECTOR: To stop plots, prevent future attacks, and to save American lives.

LOTHIAN: In his State Of The Union address President Obama laid out a broad legal justification for this use of deadly force.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Why my administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable, legal, and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism efforts.

LOTHIAN: And the attorney general's letter also reveals this week, the president approved new standards for reviewing and approving missions to capture or kill terrorists. In his speech later today at the National Defense University, aides say the president will build on his State Of The Union message including providing more transparency on how terrorists are targeted and making the case that al Qaeda is weakened but new dangers have emerged.

PETER SINGER, SENIOR FELLO, BROOKINGS: The longer that this program has gone on, the more controversial it's become, whether it's the concerns over civilian casualties, the blowback on American reputation.

LOTHIAN: All things the president said he wrestles with, in an interview last summer with CNN's Jessica Yellin.

OBAMA: That's something that you have to struggle with. LOTHIAN: Another flash point the president will address, the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Mr. Obama's first pledge when he took office in 2009 was to close the facility. After insurmountable legal hurdles it remains open.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It is the president's view that we should be determined, as he is, to see the Guantanamo Bay detention facility closed. Keeping it open is not efficient, it's not affective, and it's not in the interest of our national security.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: And the president is expected to announce specific steps that he will take to close Guantanamo. In addition, he will talk about how the U.S. can better secure its diplomatic facilities, especially in some of these very dangerous regions of the world. Christine?

ROMANS: Dan Lothian in Washington, thanks.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, in Oklahoma one of the worst scenes of destruction is an elementary school obliterated during that tornado. Next, we'll hear from one of the rescuers who rushed to the scene to try to rescue students and came upon unmanageable horror.

What does the future hold for Moore, Oklahoma? The latest on the recovery and the cleanup, next. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Over the next 72 hours the town of Moore, Oklahoma, will host the president and say final farewells to 24 of their own. Today the first victim will be laid to rest. A funeral will be held for 9-year- old Antonio Candelaria, who died inside Plaza Elementary School. Today would have also been the school's last day of the year.

State insurance officials say claims are now expected to surpass $2 billion for Monday's epic twister. 13,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed, 10,000 people are without a place to live this morning. And on Sunday President Obama will be here to witness the devastation firsthand and provide comfort to a grieving community.