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EARLY START

Storms Leave Path of Destruction; MH370 Search Expanded Again; Clippers Controversy and Owner Outrage; Obama on New Sanctions Against Russia; Three More Arrests in Ferry Investigation

Aired April 28, 2014 - 04:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A path of destruction cutting through towns from Oklahoma to the Carolinas, destroying homes, leveling businesses and leaving families broken. This morning we are just getting word that the death toll is rising and the threat is not over yet. We are live with what you need to know this morning.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And it may take months. Australia's prime minister admitting they do not know what happened to Flight 370. Now they have to expand, broaden, intensify their search for the missing plane. After nearly two months and countless missions, where is the plane? We are live in Australia with the very latest.

BERMAN: Owner outrage. NBA players and fans fire back at the owner of the Clippers after outrageous comments that he allegedly made about race. His own team protests on the court as the league tries to figure out what to do.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. Good to see you this morning. I'm John Berman.

HARLOW: I'm Poppy Harlow. Good to be with you.

It is 30 minutes after 4:00 a.m. here on the east coast. It's been a relatively mild spring tornado season until now. A violent, deadly out break of storms across several states being blamed for at least 17 deaths. That death toll has gone up, 17 deaths, and leaving a trail of destruction across the nation's midsection.

BERMAN: At least 16 deaths are being reported from a tornado that struck central Arkansas.

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: Arkansas the hardest hit area. Damage is said to be severe in the towns of Mayflower and Vilonia, just outside little rock. The mayor of Vilonia spoke to CNN about what it looks like on the ground there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR JAMES FIRESTONE, VILONIA, ARKANSAS: There were people reported bandaged and bloody, people trying to help them. They set up a triage center across from city hall. We're trying to do a search-and-rescue and see how many people we do have injured and try to help those first and wait until the sun comes up in the morning to see how bad the damage is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Also a tornado touching down in northeast Oklahoma, blamed for at least one death in the small town of Quapaw. That is near the border of Kansas and Missouri. Police say about half the town suffered extensive damage. Emergency officials are conducting search- and-rescue operations at this moment.

BERMAN: A tragic toned a tornado disaster in North Carolina. Eleven- month-old Gavin Soto has died for injuries suffered on Friday. A tornado there ripped the roof off the family's house. It came crashing down inside. Multiple tornadoes destroyed hundreds of homes in North Carolina.

HARLOW: People in parts of Kansas also cleaning up this morning from tornado damage. You could see funnel clouds, look at that, hanging over the town of Baxter Springs, Kansas. Officials report significant damage there as well. Dozens of homes and businesses also destroyed.

BERMAN: Just a few minutes ago, President Obama speaking from the Philippines, which is the final stop on his Asia trip. He reassured the victims of the violent and deadly storms that they're not alone. At a news conference earlier this hour, the president said, quote, "Your country will be there to help you recover and rebuild as long as it takes."

HARLOW: All right. So let's get straight to Indra Petersons. She's tracking this all for us. I think the big question right now is, are we out of the danger zone yet?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Unfortunately, not even close. Still talking about tornado warnings even this morning, also the concern also as we look at the severe weather threat spreading across the country today. We'll talk about what we already saw.

Look at the 30 reports of tornado damage already reported yesterday. Notice all the reports of strong winds as well, really as the system continued to make its way across the country. Heavy reports, especially near the south near Arkansas. You can actually tell now, we had one report of a long-track tornado, easy to see as it made its way across even Vilonia.

We're hearing reports at houses wiped completely clean down to the foundation. That leads speculation, could this be an EF-4 or EF-5 tornado? We'll have to see when the National Weather Service surveys the damage to see whether or not that is the case this morning.

We're still watching the tornado watch boxes out towards Shreveport, Little Rock, even Memphis. So still a lot of concern for severe weather, even right now at this hour when it is dark outside. That is the biggest concern. But of course, as we go through the afternoon, the setup is still here. We still have the warm, moist air, the dry air behind it with the jet stream dipping down and the low making its way across, all of the elements coming together again. So, today, another moderate risk area out there, really focusing on Huntsville, back through Jackson. Then we're still looking at, a good 28 million of you looking at slight risk. They're coming in Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Knoxville -- all of you looking for severe weather.

By tomorrow, the system continues to push farther across the country, so the severe threat not over yet. We're still talking about that slight risk area expanding, so not as strong. Cleveland, Raleigh, Charlotte, keeping going all the way back towards New Orleans, still talking about the threat for severe weather. And, of course, heavy flooding on the back side of this as well.

BERMAN: Look at that rainfall.

PETERSONS: A lot to be concerned with. Very heavy rainfall expected.

BERMAN: All right. We'll keep an eye on this in the days ahead. Indra, thank you so much.

HARLOW: Thank you.

All right. Now to the search for Flight 370 as the Bluefin-21 goes deep again on its 16th underwater mission. Australia's prime minister announcing a new phase in this search, covering a much larger area, also utilizing private contractors. It is a process that is expected to last six to eight months.

Our Anna Coren was at the prime minister's press conference that just wrapped up. She's live for us in Canberra, Australia.

You know, he said not only are they going to broaden the search and that it could be months now, but that they may use some additional, more high-tech, underwater devices to find this plane. Were they specific at all on what they may be using, if it's on its way already?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, not a lot of details, Poppy, I have to say. Definitely, they are going to use other submersibles, and he did say it would be better equipment that could go deeper and cover a larger area. We're thinking that it will be a sonar that's towed behind a ship.

But as you say, it is going to take a long period of time to cover what is an expanded search area of up to almost 40,000 square miles. You know, they've covered millions of square miles on, you know, by air, on sea, and then obviously, below with that Bluefin-21, but they haven't been able to find anything.

So, you know, everyone clearly frustrated and extremely disappointed, but they do believe that this now needs to move to the next phase, which is going to involve these, you know, other technology. We also just heard from the U.S. Navy that has been running the Bluefin-21, and they also believe that it is time to make the transition. Tony Abbott did say that it is highly unlikely now that anything will be found on the surface, that it's all going to be under water. And despite the cost, Australia alone is looking at almost $60 million U.S. dollars. Certainly, every single country involved is bearing their own cost. But despite this, despite the obstacles, Tony Abbott has said that Australia is going to continue this search.

Let's take a listen to what he had to say a bit earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: Australia will not shirk its responsibilities in this area. We will do everything we humanly can, everything we reasonably can to solve this mystery. We will not let people down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COREN: So, certainly, you know, telling the people of, you know, the victims of MH-370, the families and their relatives, that they are not going to give up hope. You know, the prime minister, poppy, described this as the most difficult search in history.

So, you know, they're up against enormous odds, but they are determined to continue searching until they find the debris.

HARLOW: Absolutely, 52 days later and nothing.

Appreciate the report, Anna. Thank you.

BERMAN: So, the president, a day after visiting Malaysia and promising to support the search for Flight 370, President Obama today is in the Philippines where he just held a news conference with the leader there. The news conference, they were announcing new troop support from the United States to the Philippines, new troop deployments there.

But really, the big news came on the issue of Ukraine. The president announcing that later today, within a few hours, the United States will announce new sanctions against Russia and Vladimir Putin.

And in this news conference, which just concluded a few minutes ago, used really defensive language, the likes of which I have not heard before, in talking about U.S. policy toward Russia when it comes to Ukraine.

Let's bring in Michelle Kosinski, our White House correspondent traveling with the president.

Michelle, the president really firing back at critics this morning.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and we have heard that from the administration a bit before. I mean, saying that what are we supposed to do, go in there guns blazing? Those weren't the words that he used, but that his job is really to use U.S. forces wisely. And what would the point really be to send in troops? Would that even change Russia's behavior?

For the last few weeks, the U.S. has been saying they don't even want to send in arms for the Ukrainian army, because that would be in essence starting a proxy war with Russia.

Really, a fine and delicate line to be trod here by the president, and he has acknowledged throughout this trip that, yeah, the sanctions are incremental, they send a message, they're supposed to be having some deterrent effect, but will they really work? Not necessarily.

The way that he framed it was, this is supposed to be kind of a long- term effort to isolate Russia. Here's some of what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These sanctions represent the next stage in a calibrated effort to change Russia's behavior. We don't yet know whether it's going to work, and that's why the next phase, if, in fact, we saw further Russian aggression towards Ukraine, could be sectoral sanctions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSINSKI: So, we know we will see expanded U.S. sanctions today targeting more individuals, more companies, possibly the U.S. export of certain technology to Russia. The president said he didn't find appropriate in this environment. But will these sanctions target Putin directly? No. And the president said the goal is not to target Putin personally, but really, try to change his calculus.

So far, the rounds of sanctions we've seen by the U.S. and by European allies have not really changed Russian behavior, although the administration has said over the past couple of weeks that they feel in some respects that they might have acted as a deterrent just in the sole fact that Russia has not full on invaded Ukraine.

But more and more, we hear the administration really hammering home that long-term goal, looking at it from that perspective, instead of, you know, coming up with this belief that things are going to change immediately there. They really seem to have some glimmer of hope after Russia signed that agreement in Geneva that it would take these concrete steps to de-escalate the situation. But as President Obama said yesterday during this trip, Russia has not lifted a finger to de- escalate. In fact, it seems to be only escalating the situation. So, now we see incrementally that next round of sanctions coming today.

BERMAN: The president defending that calibrated approach, as he puts it, to approaching Russia and dealing with the situation in Ukraine. Michelle Kosinski in the Philippines, thanks so much.

And coming up in a few minutes, we will go live to the ground in Ukraine for the latest on the situation there. Our senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh, monitoring the latest developments. Stay with us for that.

HARLOW: Now to the backlash over racist, offensive comments allegedly made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. The NBA has launched an investigation, and there are calls for the league to come down hard on Sterling.

Even the president weighing in from overseas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

DONALD STERLING, OWNER, LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS: If you don't feel -- don't come to my games. Don't bring black people and don't come.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know that you have a whole team that's black that plays for you?

STERLING: You just -- do I know? I support them and give them food and clothes and cars and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them?

Do I know that I have -- who makes the game? Do I make the game or do they make the game? Is there 30 owners that created the league?

GIRLFRIEND: I'm not going to agree --

OBAMA: When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don't really have to do anything, you just let them talk, and that's what happened here.

MAYOR KEVIN JOHNSON, SACRAMENTO, CA: I will tell you I've talked to a lot of owners and this is a very delicate situation. There is nobody, there is no one that believes that these actions and these comments, if found true, are acceptable and fitting of anything that this NBA represents and stands for.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

HARLOW: Well, players on the Clippers also staged their own protest before Sunday's playoff game, taking to the court with their warm-up shirts turned inside-out, obscuring the team's logo. The controversy clearing a distraction for the Clippers. They lost 118-97. Donald Sterling was not at the game.

BERMAN: You know, players at some of the other games were wearing black socks and wristbands in a show of solidarity. Every major star in the NBA --

HARLOW: Speaking out.

BERMAN: LeBron James speaking out against it.

Again, this will resolve itself quickly because it has to.

Forty-two minutes after the hour.

This morning, South Korea changing its tactics to try to reach the more than 100 people. The bodies, the victims still on board that sunken ferry, as we get a new heartbreaking look at what was happening on board. We're live with the latest coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right, we are following breaking news this morning from Oklahoma and Arkansas, where the death toll just gone up to 17, rising now after tornadoes raced through that region overnight, destroying some towns, leveling homes -- the number of killed and injured are expected to rise. Stay with us for the latest as we get a better sense of the damage throughout this region as the morning goes on.

HARLOW: Also this morning, we are hearing chilling details of what it was like on a South Korean ferry when disaster struck and the ship began to list and then sink. Search crews today still trying to reach more than 100 victims believed to be trapped on board. Meantime, prosecutors have announced three more arrests in connection with the ferry disaster.

Let's go straight to Nic Robertson -- actually, we do not have Nic. We're going to have more later on that.

But again, three arrests because authorities say that those three people tried to destroy evidence tied to the investigation of what could have caused this ship to sink. At this hour, 189 bodies found deceased, still more than 100 missing.

We'll get to Nic Robertson right now. We have him back. Let's go to Nic Robertson there with us in Jindo, South Korea, for the very latest.

First, Nic, tell me about the arrests, three more of these arrests made.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, these are people that were arrested at the Korean shipping association. They've been accused of destroying documents that belong to the company or relate to communications with the company that owns the Sewol ferry.

So, this is a clear indication of the investigation widening. We've also heard from the prosecutor's office here saying they are also investigating now the 911 emergency phone line service locally to see if they responded fast enough. They've also opened a line of investigation into the local coast guard here to see if they responded appropriately and quickly enough as well, Poppy.

HARLOW: Also this morning, some very disturbing cell phone video, recording, actually. The audio has been released, correct me if I'm wrong, by a father who lost a child on the ferry. Tell us about it and then let us listen to a bit.

ROBERTSON: Sure. I mean, it's a really tragic story. This is a father. The funeral for his son, who died aboard the ferry, he was handed his son's cell phone.

And when he looked at it, he saw the memory card was there and it was working, so he looked at what was on the memory card, and he said there were recordings, 15 or 20 minutes or so of recordings. Some of it, he couldn't bring himself to watch all of it, but he said, because he was frustrated, he feels that there were needless deaths here. He said, okay, I'm going to take this recording and give it to a local broadcaster. So, he gave it to a Korean broadcaster, gave them permission to broadcast it.

Let's take a listen to what it said. It's very chilling. We hear somebody around the cell phone asking what's going on. This is the recording.

(AUDIO CLIP PLAYS)

ROBERTSON: So, what you hear in the recording there is some of what sounds as if is possibly the students saying, "What's happening? We've been told to put our life vests on. Does that mean the ship is sinking?" "What's happening to the children high on the upper deck?" We heard that as well on another piece of recording.

But very clearly, the loudspeaker system on the ship saying, "Remain where you are, do not leave, absolutely remain where you are." And it's believed that this recording was made when the ship was really listing over, beginning to tilt very badly to one side.

So, for this father, this is absolutely heartbreaking, but for the nation here, it's very shocking for them to realize the despair of what was going on on board the ship.

HARLOW: This as South Korea's prime minister is taking responsibility for a flawed response and saying that he will be stepping down.

Nic, appreciate the report. We'll get back to you later in the show. Thank you.

BERMAN: About 10 minutes until the hour right now.

So, they say they're being held as guests but against their will. International observers taken captive in Ukraine by pro-Russian separatists as the west moves to impose new sanctions on Russia. This new development ratcheting up the tensions. We're live in Ukraine with the latest.

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HARLOW: Breaking news this morning. The death toll is rising in Oklahoma and Arkansas after severe weather and tornadoes tore apart some towns. Rescue crews have spent the night looking for victims, a process expected to pick up, of course, once the sun rises.

At this hour, 17 people are confirmed dead in Oklahoma and Arkansas. Stay with us throughout the morning for the very latest from there.

BERMAN: In eastern Ukraine, a new provocation is threatening to drive that country closer to war. Separatists this morning holding European diplomatic observers hostage, calling them spies, parading them before cameras.

Now, one of the observers has been released, but others say they're guests who can't go home, a scary formulation right there. Our Nick Paton Walsh live in Ukraine this morning.

Nick, what can you tell us?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know negotiations are probably still going to continue about the fate of these now six OSCE military observers who were picked up outside where I'm standing a couple days ago now. They say they hadn't been threatened, they said conditions were improving, and they said the man released, a Swedish citizen with diabetes issues, that he had been treated well while there.

But it was the spectacle of them, I think, being paraded in front of the media that showed how newly emboldened the self-declared mayor of Slaviansk, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov. Very calm, considered them certainly prisoners of war. And even the commanders of the observers themselves admitted they were a political element in the negotiations going on here.

But this is one part of a fast-moving, volatile situation here. Towns to the south where that happened, there have been reports of pro- Russian militants storming the administration building there. The interior ministry playing that down, saying negotiations are now ensuing there.

But as the clock ticks here, John, we see more and more reasons for concern. I'm standing on a road to the north of which is Ukrainian ministry troops, south of which pro-Russian militants are manning a checkpoint. They are physically a lot closer and they're much further apart in their of their political stunts and negotiations -- John.

BERMAN: A tense dividing line and those tensions rising. Our Nick Paton Walsh live in eastern Ukraine, thank you so much.

We do we have breaking news overnight, a tornado out break through a large part of the country. We'll have details on that, the death toll rising, right after this.

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