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EARLY START

Twisters Tear Apart Towns; Clippers Controversy Grows; New Focus in Flight 370 Search

Aired April 29, 2014 - 04:00   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning. The deadly string of tornadoes tearing through the Southeast overnight, trees ripped from the ground, buildings flattened, and many people this morning left without a home. Indra Petersons tracking where these dangerous storms are heading next.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Players protesting, team sponsors pulling out in big numbers. This morning, the outrage grows after the billionaire owner of the L.A. Clippers caught on tape in a racist rant. Today, the NBA's set to make a big announcement in this scandal. The very latest on that, ahead.

BERMAN: And breaking overnight, an official ending to the surface search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. This as investigators reveal new information to families of those on board, playing for them the last audio recordings received from the cockpit of the vanished jetliner. You are going to hear it here. We are bringing you live team coverage.

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

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. Nice to see you, John.

It's Tuesday, April 29th, it's 4:00 a.m. in the East.

Let's begin with breaking news: another night of dangerous storms moving through the South, leaving at least 13 people more dead, many homes damaged and towns this morning devastated.

This thing is not over, not over yet. Even more severe weather could happen again today from Texas all the way to the Atlantic.

BERMAN: The entire state of Mississippi is under a state of emergency this morning, in the city of Tupelo, under a curfew after a tornado ripped through at least 100 homes, leaving eight people dead, many others hurt.

But I want you to look at this -- the winds so powerful, they just picked up that minivan-SUV, and stacked it on top of a car. About 100 miles south in Louisville, Mississippi, another tornado was caught on camera. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My god. No, no, no, no. No, no, no.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Stop.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop. Shh, shh, everyone listen. Everyone listen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: That is something.

Damage also in Alabama, where three people are dead near Tuscaloosa and West Huntsville, where homes and businesses hit by what the National Weather Service called a large, violent tornado. Another major twister also touched down just across the state line in Tennessee. Two people are reported dead there.

BERMAN: And look at this video from southwestern Atlanta -- fierce storms and a possible tornado on the ground. There is damage, but luckily there, no fatalities. You can see the fierce winds. Fifteen Georgia counties under a tornado watch this morning.

And in Arkansas this morning, many still trying to make sense and clean up from the monster tornado there that left at least 14 people dead. That was a little west of Little Rock. Some of those killed children. Others simply couldn't make it to shelters in time. They did have warning there for days. Those who witnessed the tornado called it unbelievable.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was huge. It was by far the biggest one I've ever seen. Not that I've seen that many, but yes, it was just a huge, black cloud.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It just popped back up real quick. And then I ran inside, and in about a minute, it was over. I come outside, and what you see is what we have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: In Kansas, extensive damage, but amazingly in Kansas, no deaths reported in Baxter Springs, in the southeast part of the state -- a two-block-wide tornado responsible for ripping roofs off homes, knocking down walls. The governor there promising quick help for those victims.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I could have been in that. I could have been dead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: That from Iowa, where a tornado obliterated that minivan a minute before that woman would have been inside. One person died there nearby. Damage is said to be extensive.

ROMANS: All right, Indra Petersons has the latest on the storms and the threat for more of them today.

Indra, bring us up to speed, what are we looking for?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: This is the worst situation, a very slow-moving system. Again today, another moderate risk. About 2.5 million of you are in the area, including Birmingham and just north of Mobile, but a good 73 million people today have a slight risk for tornadoes, also severe weather.

Still, even with a slight risk, you can get a very strong tornado. Do not confuse the two. What are we looking at right now? Still tornado watches even at this hour, really seeing all this energy still farther down into the Southeast.

What are we looking for? Look what we saw just the last day or so. We're talking about 70 reports of tornado damage.

Unfortunately, that severe weather is still in the forecast as we go through the afternoon, especially today. Why are we still dealing with this?

Look at this huge low hanging out offshore in the Northeast. This guy's pretty much blocking this system behind it, so we're looking at the second one almost in place from where it was 48 hours ago, the same cold front still triggering all this energy into the Southeast. That is the reason we'll still be talking about this for days to come. We're still talking even in through tomorrow looking at another severe weather threat, this time farther to the east, including D.C., guys, all the way back down even in through Florida.

That is one side of this. The other side of this is the very heavy rain that's out there, about three to five inches of rain. Flooding concerns are going to be high. Of course, what we also worry about is the conditions in the Southeast, a lot of times dangerous, even more dangerous once you start getting to the Southeast because you can't see the tornadoes coming.

What you also have to deal with is the rain-wrapped tornadoes. You're talking about heavy rain, you can't see them, you're out in the woods, very, very concerning in the next few hours.

BERMAN: It is, Indra. People there have to stay vigilant. A lot of people have been tweeting me overnight saying they're listening to their storm radio right now to get a sense of where things are headed. This will be going on for days, so please --

ROMANS: Thank you, Indra. We'll be back with you soon.

BERMAN: Other big story this morning, more companies backing away from the Los Angeles Clippers. At least 12 now have pulled their sponsorships, this amid an NBA investigation into racist comments allegedly made by the team's owner, Donald Sterling. The league is set to make an announcement today, a big one. That's at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time, about the next steps.

Stephanie Elam has the latest from Los Angeles.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Christine, the fallout from this alleged racist rant by the owner of the Clippers, Donald Sterling, continues to be felt. Several sponsors have now said that they are severing their relationship with the team. We know that Red Bull has pulled out, Virgin America no longer is associated, and State Farm is saying that they're taking a pause to evaluate the situation. Several others also following that train of movement there.

Also hearing that the NBA should know by 2:00 Eastern Time what their decision's going to be and how they're going to handle this issue with the owner here. That should be maybe some comfort headed into the game. Game five will be here in Los Angeles tonight. That game between the Warriors and the Clippers.

What everyone wants to know is how Clippers fans will act when the players take the court, whether or not they will protest or if they will turn out to support the players, even though they may not like what the owner has said.

John and Christine, back to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: You know, this is such a tough situation for those players, and I think thus far, they have acted with such class in this. I'm really interested to see what they do and what they say as the playoffs continue, but they have been really classy.

BERMAN: I really do think this will end in some way today with Sterling at least pushed aside in some way. You have these sponsors backing out, you have the players turning their backs. The coach, Doc Rivers, who's a terrific guy, won't return phone calls from Donald Sterling right now because he wants to see how this all goes down. He's completely isolated.

ROMANS: All right, we're going to move on now to the search for Flight 370.

This morning, the underwater hunt for the missing jet temporarily suspended, the weather keeping the Bluefin-21 out of the water this morning, as the air search officially comes to an end.

Miguel Marquez live in Perth, Australia, with the very latest for us.

Good morning.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning there, Christine.

Look, we were up at Pearce Royal Air Force Base here just north of Perth, and it was amazing to see all of the crews, some 650 air personnel from seven different countries. Most interesting was to see the Chinese crews and the American crews hanging out, exchanging pleasantries about their kids and patches. Clearly, a sense of frustration that this has come to an end and they have not found anything related to MH370, but also a sense that they have tried their damnedest to get this thing, and it is extremely hard work for these crews to be out there for so long and looking at that ocean.

With regard to the search, the Bluefin may be out today, but it will continue working. Really, they're going to continue in three different ways. The Bluefin is going to continue to work, the Ocean Shield that it's launching off of, can stay out until May 15th or so before it has to return to port for fuel.

Then, the authorities will go back to all of their partners and re- crunch the numbers, figure out what other areas may be promising to search in. We already know they'll move toward pinger number one location, just north of where they're searching now, and then they're going to look even broader. Bring in more material, more stuff in order to figure out how they can search, if necessary, all 21,600 square miles of the area where they believe that airliner is.

Back to you guys.

ROMANS: All right, Miguel. So much work yet to do. Thanks for that report.

Coming up in a few minutes, we'll go to Beijing, where families were briefed overnight with new details about Flight 370. Our Ivan Watson was there. He's going to tell us what those families heard. We'll bring that to you in a few minutes.

BERMAN: A lot of news happening overnight. The crisis in Ukraine escalating with riots in the streets, demonstrators battling with pro- Russian protesters, bloodshed happening as the U.S. announces new sanctions against Russia.

We're live on the ground with the very latest, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back.

We're following breaking news: more deadly tornadoes striking the South overnight. Twisters on the ground in Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, leaving at least 13 people dead, that on top of the 16 killed in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Iowa. Officials warn the death toll likely to rise as rescuers get a closer look at this extensive damage. Stay with us for the very latest. More here on CNN.

BERMAN: Yes, we'll stay on that all morning.

Meanwhile, this morning, eastern Ukraine teetering closer to the breaking point, this after a rally turned violent in Donetsk. Demonstrators calling for the country to stay together. They were set upon by separatists with clubs and whips, reportedly declaring this place is Russia. This came just hours after the U.S. placed new sanctions against some of Vladimir Putin's closest allies in an effort to de-escalate the crisis, but Moscow says this will only make things worse.

Senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh live in Slaviansk, Ukraine, this morning.

Nick, give us a sense of the latest.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the key thing this morning is the European Union have joined the United States in putting out further names of people they will sanction. That, of course, causes asset freezes, visa bans.

What's interesting, though, is the E.U. list doesn't contain some of the high-profile Putin aides that the U.S. put out yesterday, particularly (INAUDIBLE) big oil chief that used to be a key figure inside the Kremlin, but it does contain some of the people here who are said to be leading the pro-Russian revolt. So, some of the men who the E.U. accuses of being Russian special forces soldiers and Dennis Pushilin, the chairman of the next people's republic.

Unlikely, though, it will change much on the ground here. We are still seeing, yesterday, the pro-Russian militants taking over yet another town's key building or police station, seemingly full of police officers, who were quite relaxed, wearing pro-Russian protester arm bands, even, when these armed men came in, and the worrying issue is how violence has become a daily occurrence here, where another body was confirmed to us by police found yesterday in Slaviansk near a river there.

People really concerned now, as we see death toll become a daily issue, where it wasn't moments ago, quite where this goes next. Diplomacy simply failing people here -- John.

BERMAN: Nick, aren't we less than a month away from a scheduled election? How possibly can that go on in this kind of environment?

WALSH: I think that's what many people are thinking, perhaps, as a motivation for some of the unrest. Certainly, critics of Moscow say they're, in fact, orchestrating this to ensure that whatever vote happens on May the 25th -- that's the broad presidential elections across Ukraine -- that that is considered to be by those in the east, certainly, because any instability here means they couldn't have had their vote freely.

But there is another question about elections because some of the protesters want to referendum May the 11th to decide whether Donetsk becomes part of Russia or Ukraine or what it does in the future.

The political pressure, though, somewhat divorced sometimes from the reality on the ground, which, at the end of day, controlled by armed men in matching camouflage uniforms who Kiev says are being controlled by the Kremlin -- John.

BERMAN: Not going anywhere. Nick Paton Walsh for us in Ukraine, thanks so much, Nick. Good to see you this morning.

ROMANS: All right. To Iraq now, where nearly 50 people have been killed in a series of attacks on polling stations across Iraq, two days ahead of parliamentary elections. Soldiers and security forces were voting at the time in advance of their countrymen, and many of the country's 22 million registered voters are expected to turn out for the first nationwide elections since the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2011. No one has yet claimed responsibility for those attacks.

BERMAN: Breaking overnight, North Korea beginning exercises in the Yellow Sea, firing live ammunition, this very close to the South Korean border. North Korea did notify the south of its plans, but Seoul is warning it will take action if any artillery shells fall on its side of the border.

ROMANS: The Obama administration will no longer have to reveal just how many people have been killed or injured in drone strikes. The Senate has stripped a provision from an intelligence bill requiring those details be made public. The administration has said revealing that information could undermine U.S. operations overseas.

BERMAN: President Obama, by the way, is on his way back to Washington after wrapping up a four-nation week-long Asia trip. At his last stop in the Philippines, the president placed a wreath at an American cemetery there.

The president, we should say, is returning some of the worst approval numbers of his presidency. A new ABC News/"Washington Post" poll puts his approval at just 41 percent. That is the lowest in the ABC News poll since he came to office, 53 percent of voters say they would like to see Republicans in charge of Congress again. And the ABC numbers, the last time you saw something like that was before 2010, when the Democrats lost control of the House.

ROMANS: And you know, the economy is improving, but not for everyone, the long-term unemployed. Everybody knows somebody still out of work, so the jobs part is a tough nut to crack. That's probably got to be part of it.

BERMAN: You know, in fact, the economy is key in this poll. And dissatisfaction is what is driving the disapproval of the president.

ROMANS: CNN Money has a great piece today about how the explosion of low-wage jobs -- I mean, the economy is adding low-wage jobs. Everybody feels you can see those in those approval numbers.

All right. New York Congressman Michael Grimm has pleaded not guilty to federal fraud charges after being slammed with a 20-count indictment, claiming he underreported employee wages at a restaurant he once owned, concealed more than $1 million in earnings and lied under oath. The former FBI agent and Marine faces up to 20 years if convicted. He plans to run for re-election.

BERMAN: More news. The so-called "kissing congressman" will not run for another term. Louisiana Representative Vance McAllister announcing he will give up the job early next year, a year after voters chose him in a special election. A few weeks ago, you will remember, McAllister was caught on camera kissing an aide, an aide that was not his wife. He apologized again, saying he has now reconciled with his wife and family after letting them down.

ROMANS: New guidelines set to be formally unveiled today for colleges to deal with sexual assault on campus. A White House task force recommending schools survey their students to get a better sense of how often these assaults happen and review their own sexual misconduct policies. And the administration plans to launch a new Web site to inform students about sexual assaults.

BERMAN: The Department of Homeland Security says do not use Internet Explorer --

ROMANS: This is really scary!

BERMAN: It's ridiculous! I mean, everyone uses Explorer. A lot of people --

ROMANS: Ditch it, at least for now.

BERMAN: At least for now because of new revelations that a serious security flaw in the browser could give hackers access to your computer. Good morning, everyone!

Microsoft is said to be working on a fix, but for now, Homeland Security says you should use another browser until this fix is installed.

ROMANS: Now, there's what you can do, but then don't forget, a lot of ATM machines and ATM networks run on the same software. It's mind- boggling.

BERMAN: I don't know why I'm laughing. It's very, very serious. It just seems the scope of it is just huge.

ROMANS: It's not funny unfortunately at 4:20 in the morning in the East, Berman.

BERMAN: Almost everything is funny at 4:20 a.m. in the East.

ROMANS: All right. Another name is leaving late night. Craig Ferguson says he will step down as host of "The Late Late Show" on CBS at the end of the year. That announcement comes just weeks after David Letterman announced his retirement from "The Late Show." Ferguson was passed over to be Letterman's replacement. The network went with Stephen Colbert instead. Now, Ferguson says he's moving on to other things.

BERMAN: New Jersey's other favorite son, besides Christine Romans.

Breaking news overnight, investigators releasing new information, documents and audio recordings to the families on board missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. There's a packed conference room waiting to hear what authorities had withheld from them for weeks. We're live in Beijing with that part of the story, coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Breaking news this morning. At least 13 people now reported dead after another night of devastating storms in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee. This number is on top of the 16 people killed in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Iowa. Authorities are warning this death toll could rise even further as the sun comes up. Stay with us for the latest right here on CNN.

ROMANS: All right, breaking overnight, the Malaysian government is opening up about some of what it knows about Flight 370, telling families those on board new details and answering questions during a packed briefing in Beijing.

Senior international correspondent Ivan Watson was there. He joins us live now.

Ivan, what was the government telling these families?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this has been a long-awaited meeting, Christine, and they have fulfilled the request from the families. They played for the very first time snippets of the audio recordings, the radio chatter believed to be between missing Flight 370 and ground control.

It was played in a conference room over loud speakers, and it's pretty scratchy audio in the first place, but let's take a listen for just a few seconds to hear a little bit of what is believed to be the last, really, known words of the crew aboard missing Malaysian Air Flight 370.

(INAUDIBLE)

WATSON: So, as you can hear, it's pretty hard to make out, but the final communication there with radar controllers was basically from the airline, from the plane, saying, "Goodnight Malaysian 370."

Now, the Malaysian authorities have already released transcripts of this, but never released the audio before. They also gave a lot of other details about the final communications with the plane, saying, for instance, that Malaysian Airlines tried to send a message to the plane at 2:03 a.m. local time on March 8th. That's the day the plane disappeared. It was a message saying, you guys need to contact ground control in Vietnam, which was along the flight route to Beijing. There was no answer received.

About 2:22 a.m., that was the last time that Malaysian Air force radar control saw a sight on the radar of the flight. And then it was some five hours later, 7:13 a.m., that Malaysian Airlines then tried again to contact the plane, this time with a phone call that was not answered. And the Malaysian authorities say that they believe that by their estimates, the plane would have run out of fuel about an hour after that.

So, some of the questions being answered. One of the Chinese technical committee members, one of the family members telling me that he thinks finally some progress has been made. Some of the answers are being given by Malaysian authorities, answers to technical questions that they had desperately asked for over the weeks that have gone by, questions that had not been answered for about 50 days now, since the plane disappeared -- Christine.

ROMANS: Now they're finally getting some of that information, Ivan. Thank you, Ivan.

BERMAN: By the way, some of that information doesn't sound like any reason to withhold it as long as they did. It could have been given to them weeks ago.

ROMANS: Right.

BERMAN: All right. Twenty-seven minutes after the hour.

Breaking news overnight: dozens of tornadoes reported touching down, thousands waking up to devastation all around them. The death toll has been rising all morning long. We'll bring you the new video, coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)