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Deadly Storms Rip Central U.S.; New Phase Search for Flight 370; Clippers Owner's Alleged Racist Comments; Obama in Manila; New Sanctions Against Russia

Aired April 28, 2014 - 04:00   ET


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Deadly storms ripping through the central part of the country, tearing homes and towns apart. This morning, we're live with the latest on the destruction and what Mother Nature has in store next.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Entering a new phase. The search for Flight 370 turns up nothing, so authorities announce plans to refocus and scan an even larger area now, nearly two months after that jet disappeared. We're live with the new plans this morning.

HARLOW: And anger growing against an NBA owner for comments he allegedly made about race and his own players. His team making a statement on the court as more calls for the NBA to do something.

Good morning. Happy Monday, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Poppy Harlow.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is Monday, a lot going on this morning, April 28th, 4:00 a.m. in the East.

And we begin with the severe weather that has been deadly in parts of the Midwest and the south this morning. Devastating tornadoes hitting several states, blamed now for at least 13 deaths. That number could rise as we learn more. This has left a path of destruction that is wide and long, and more rough weather may still be headed that way.

HARLOW: And there are mass casualties from a twister that struck central Arkansas, the state's Department of Emergency Management now reporting at least 12 deaths. There's severe damage in the towns of Mayflower and Bologna, just outside of Little Rock.

The mayor of Vilonia telling CNN about the devastation in his town.


MAYOR JAMES FIRESTONE, VILONIA, ARKANSAS: Our downtown area seems like it's completely leveled. There's a few buildings partially standing, but the amount of damage is tremendous. Utilities, there's gas lines spewing, power lines down, houses that are just a pile of brick.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: Several states hit in Oklahoma. At least one person was killed. Afterward a tornado struck the small town of Quapaw. Police say half the town suffered extensive damage. A fire station was simply destroyed by the twister.

HARLOW: Also, in North Carolina, an 11-month-old, Gavin Soto, has now died from injuries sustained on Friday when a tornado sent the roof of his family home crashing down inside. Multiple tornadoes destroyed hundreds of homes in the Tar Heel state.

BERMAN: Tragedy in a lot of places. A tornado also left a trail of destruction in Kansas. Look at that. Funnel clouds hung over Baxter Springs, Kansas, extensive damage, dozens of homes and businesses destroyed.

HARLOW: Also, President Obama weighing in on the deadly round of storms while speaking at a news conference just moments ago in Manila.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want everyone affected by this tragedy to know that FEMA and the federal government is on the ground and will help our fellow Americans in need, working with state and local officials, and I want everybody to know that your country will be there to help you recover and rebuild as long as it takes.


BERMAN: That was the president just moments ago in Manila.

And as the sun does come up, we could learn much more about the extent of the damage. The worst may not be over yet.

Indra Petersons tracking is all for us.

Good morning, Indra.

INDRA PETERSON, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, you just brought up my biggest concern. It's always in the night hours when people aren't aware, asleep overnight. Unfortunately, yes, it was a slow start to the season, but that's quickly changed.

Take a look at the tornado reports as they made their way through the country, afternoon into the evening, 30 reports of tornadoes. We're going to easily see the system made its way across, still even very strong straight-line winds and about 113 reports of hail, including very large hail.

What are we watching? Look at this southern portion of the system moving in through Mayflower and for Vilonia. Take a look, and we even heard reports around Vilonia that homes were ripped off their foundations. So, that's how strong the system was, and you can see how powerful, as repeated events of tornado reports were out there.

Currently this morning, this is the concern -- we still have tornado watch boxes out there and warnings. Look at Memphis, Little Rock, even towards Shreveport, we have the concern that the severe weather is still ramping up currently. Reason why: jet stream dips all the way down south here.

Now, you combine that and there is a perfect storm out there. All the warm, moist air of the gulf, dry air behind it, a cold front making its way in and a low, spinning more storms up towards Iowa. All of these ingredients combine together to produce that severe risk out there. Still looking at that today, even as the frontal system continues to push farther to the east. We'll be looking at this outlook to extend even through tomorrow.

Tomorrow just a slight risk, so conditions will improve, but, of course, we have today to get through first in through tomorrow. Of course, we'll start to see the threat even through the East Coast, so very dangerous, yes, in the overnight hours, but especially through the afternoon again today and into the overnight again.

HARLOW: And as the sun rises, our hearts go out, they're saying at least 13 deaths now because of the storms.

Thanks, Indra. Appreciate it.

All right. Well, we're now turning to the search for Flight 370. The Bluefin-21 submersible is now on its 16th mission, looking for any sign of the missing plane in the Indian Ocean. To date, it has found nothing.

Meantime, the Australian prime minister announcing a new phase of the operation, an intensified, broadened underwater search, utilizing now also some private contractors. This process is expected to take six to eight months, so the long haul here.

Our Anna Coren was at the prime minister's announcement. She is live in Cambria this morning.

What is the latest? What can you tell us about sort of the new phase, now that they have found nothing that initial search zone?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a great deal of frustration and disappointment here, Poppy, because they haven't been able to find anything. This search has been going on for some 41 days. Of course, MH-370 disappeared 52 days ago, more than seven weeks ago with 239 passengers on board.

So, the prime minister has announced that the search mission is moving into a new phase. And as you say, they are expanding the search area. It's now going to take in almost 40,000 square miles. That is the area now that they will be looking at, and it's all going to be under water.

So, let's have a listen to what Prime Minister Tony Abbott had to say a little bit earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: It is highly unlikely at this stage that we will find any aircraft debris on the ocean surface. Therefore, we are moving from the current phase to a phase which is focused on searching the ocean floor over a much larger area.


COREN: So, searching that large area -- something that could take, you know, between six to eight months at a minimum. So, an extraordinary, you know, amount of time. And it's obviously very frustrating and heartbreaking for the families and relatives of the victims of MH-370 who are so desperately in need of answers. But Prime Minister Abbott described this as the most difficult search in human history.

He and the air chief marshal, Angus Houston, still convinced that that is the correct area. However, they are just going to have to spend many more months trying to find the exact location as to where the plane went down, Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes, absolutely. Just astonishing that 52 days and nothing has been found. Appreciate the report this morning, thank you.

BERMAN: Seven minutes after the hour.

This morning, there is universal condemnation for racist comments being attributed to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. These (AUDIO GAP) now by the NBA. The audio recordings released by TMZ Sports and Deadspin appear to catch Sterling in the middle of offensive, racist ramblings, arguing with a girlfriend over her association with African Americans.

Now, this comes with the Clippers in the middle of a playoff series. And on Sunday, players staged a pregame protest.

Let's get more on that now from CNN's Stephanie Elam.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Clippers/Warriors series is now tied at two after the Clippers lost this game here in Oakland, but they did let their feelings known in some way at the beginning of the game about this entire scandal with the owner of the Clippers, Donald Sterling.

At the beginning of the game, while they were warming up, they all met in center court and took off their sweatshirts and dropped them in the middle there and then revealed that they all had on red T-shirts, long, red T-shirts that were on inside-out with the logo against their chest, expressing some discomfort, some frustration, we're sure, but still doing their job and playing the game as they are expected to do here.

Taking a look at the situation with Donald Sterling, it is perhaps affecting the team collectively. You take a look at the players association. The president is Chris Paul. He is a member of the Clippers team. And he put out a statement saying that they want swift reaction to whatever sanctions are put on or whatever needs to happen with the owner.

Also, seeing that Kevin Johnson is now going to help out -- he's a former NBA player, now mayor of Sacramento -- he is going to help out and see if they can find a resolution to this situation.

But now as the series heads back to Los Angeles, many are waiting to see what's going on happen on home turf when the clippers take Staples Center and to see how fans will react once they're there.

Stephanie Elam, CNN, Oakland, California.


BERMAN: I expect the situation will be resolved by tomorrow night, by Tuesday night, when they do play again in Los Angeles. You know, these comments reprehensible.


BERMAN: I mean, beyond offensive. And I don't think that players will stand for it past Tuesday, to be sure.

HARLOW: And we're still waiting. We know the NBA's investigating, but what are they going to do or say? A lot of people want action. We'll keep you posted on that.

Meantime, President Obama is in the Philippines on the last leg of his Asian trip, but much of his attention focused on Ukraine and Russia. We're live with what the president is saying this morning, straight ahead.


HARLOW: We're following breaking news this morning from Oklahoma and Arkansas, where the death toll now stands at 13 after tornadoes raced through overnight, destroying some towns, leveling homes. The number killed and injured are expected to rise. Stay with us for the latest on this, of course, throughout the morning.

BERMAN: Happening right now, President Obama is in Manila. He's holding a news conference with that country's president and detailing plans to send U.S. troops back to the island nation in large numbers for the first time in decades.

That, though, is being overshadowed by situations all across the world, including in Ukraine. New sanctions, the president just said, will be coming today against some of Vladimir Putin's top allies.

Our White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski, is traveling with the president.

Michelle, give us a sense of what the president's saying.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. Right, how quickly the attention on this trip every day turns to the situation in Ukraine, more so right now, because now the president has confirmed that more sanctions are coming later today, in a matter of hours.

Somewhat coordinated with Europe, but we understand it would be different. In the case of the U.S., it will be an expanded list of what we've seen before. Individuals, some companies targeted, and President Obama said, interestingly, it's also going to target possibly some high-tech exports from the U.S. to Russia that Obama said he didn't feel was appropriate in this environment.

And when asked, you know, is Putin going to be targeted directly, or how close, really, is this going to hit Vladimir Putin personally, the president answered that the goal was not to target him personally, but, in fact, change his calculus, change Russia's behavior.

I thought that was interesting, because the question comes up again and again, (a), why not target Putin directly? And number two, what good are these sanctions really doing?

And President Obama again acknowledged, as he has done a few times during this trip, that there's no guarantee that these sanctions will do anything. As the president said yesterday, Russia has not lifted a finger, in his words, to de-escalate the situation, even though it agreed to do so very recently in Geneva.

So, as the president described it as kind of this calibrated effort to increase the pressure on Russia for the long term, that long-term outlook, considering Russia to be somewhat of a pariah state at this point, grouping it in with nations like North Korea is the goal. That's really what the administration has been focusing on as this has been progressing.

BERMAN: Long-term goal, given in the short term, the United States having a very difficult time getting our European allies to move as strongly, and perhaps as quickly, as the U.S. would like.

Michelle Kosinski in Manila this morning. Thanks for being with us. We'll check back in with you in a little bit.

HARLOW: Meanwhile this morning, dozens of people are being held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern part of Ukraine. They include a group of European observers. They're monitoring the fighting. One has now been released. The others, though, were paraded in front of cameras late Sunday, saying they were diplomats but cannot go home.

Our Nick Paton Walsh is live in Ukraine this morning.

Nick, you're in the area where these observers have been taken. Explain to us what the situation is like on the ground there and this odd scenario we saw played out in front of cameras yesterday.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly. I mean, this is probably the biggest bargaining chip that the South declared protesters, the new administration of Slaviansk, near where I'm standing, have it. Yesterday they paraded these seven OSCE military observers here, trying to observe any military build-up under the old agreement and not part of the mission here. They're trying to monitor the new crisis in the area.

But they were paraded, basically saying that the press conference was done at the request of the new self-declared mayor there, saying they hadn't been threatened, were comparatively treated well, particularly in the last 24 hours, and the man released, a Swedish citizen, in fact, suffered from diabetes, so health reasons caused him to be let out of that building towards the end of the evening yesterday, then taken away by a second delegation from the OSCE, the observers- monitors in this region, who it seems took him back with the main city of Slaviansk.

But at six at least of them still being held, understand from the spokesman for the self-declared mayor of Slaviansk, that they're hoping to have more negotiations, but in her words, they're having a little time to think right now. But frankly, these men are referred to as prisoners of war, and that really gives you a sense of the volatility here and how combustible the situation is. They're Ukrainian troops close to where I'm standing in this direction and pro-Russian military checkpoints just down the road there, both increasingly close together.

HARLOW: So, we hear from the president on how the United States is involving itself with more sanctions coming down today against Russia, but give me a sense, Nick, of the feeling on the ground there in Ukraine. Is that going to feel like anything?

WALSH: No, it won't. I mean, self-declared mayor doesn't talk about sanctions in any way at all. Those better trained pro-Russian militants who form his security guard and may have perhaps been behind this morning's attack on another police administration building in a different town near where I'm standing that apparently was short- lived, they may perhaps have a change in what critics say are their orders coming, perhaps, from Russia or Moscow, as Kiev and Washington maintain or coordinating what's happening here.

But those threat of sanctions aren't really changing what's happening here. The feeling is that may alter the calculus in the Kremlin, if you go along with the Washington theory that the Kremlin are running everything on the ground -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Appreciate the report this morning, Nick. Thank you.

BERMAN: In a word, no, those sanctions will not be felt in Ukraine. Nick Paton Walsh, interesting report.

Eighteen minutes after the hour. He calls the government response inadequate. South Korea's prime minister giving up his job as searchers again try to reach more than 100 victims in that sunken ferry. More arrests to tell you about this morning, fascinating arrests.

We'll have the latest next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BERMAN: Breaking news this morning. The death toll is expected to rise in Oklahoma and Arkansas after severe weather, including tornadoes, tore apart some towns. Rescue crews have spent the night looking for victims. This is a process expected to pick up once the sun rises.

Right now, 13 are confirmed dead in Arkansas and Oklahoma. Stay with us for the latest. As we said, this will develop. That number could grow throughout the morning.

HARLOW: And in South Korea this morning, three more arrests in connection with that ferry sinking nearly two weeks ago. Prosecutors say three members of the Korean shipping association are in custody, suspected of destroying evidence related to the investigation into why that ferry sunk. Officials held a closed-door meeting with families this weekend to discuss possible new tactics in the search, trying still to recover more than 100 bodies from the ship.

The death toll now stands at 189. As I said, more than 100 still unaccounted for.

Meantime, South Korea's prime minister is resigning, saying he takes responsibility for what he called an inadequate response to the disaster.

BERMAN: Sirens across Israel, marking Holocaust Remembrance Day with ceremonies and events remembering the 6 million Jews and others killed in German death camps and beyond during World War II.

The names of the victims will be read today at the Israeli Knesset, a day after President Mahmoud Abbas acknowledged the Holocaust as, quote, "The most heinous crime in modern history," strong language from the Palestinian leader.

Still, Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu said Abbas can't embrace history at the same time as he, in his words, works with those who deny the Holocaust happened.

Also this morning, a 16-year-old is being held for psychiatric evaluation after a deadly stabbing of a fellow student at their high school. It happened in Milford, Connecticut, near New Haven, but say the classmates, 16-year-old Maureen Sanchez was stabbed in a stairwell. No motive has been established. Investigators are looking into rumors that the boy stabbed her because she declined to go to prom with him.

BERMAN: This morning, Microsoft is warning of a security hole in some versions of its Internet Explorer browser. The bug would allow hackers to gain access to your computer. Even getting permission to view secret files and delete data. There is no fix available yet.

HARLOW: Yikes!

BERMAN: Microsoft says it is aware of some limited attempts to exploit this flaw. HARLOW: And dangerous, deadly storms cutting across the central part of the country overnight. This morning rescuers picking through the rubble, trying to find survivors in Arkansas and Oklahoma. We'll have the very latest for you straight ahead.