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Deadly Tornadoes; Clippers Controversy Grows; New Focus in Flight 370 Search; Protesters, Separatists Clash in Eastern Ukraine; North Korea Begins Drills

Aired April 29, 2014 - 04:30   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning: tornadoes tearing a deadly path through the South. Homes and businesses demolished. People this morning waking up to find their neighborhoods unrecognizable. And these severe storms, they're still moving.

Indra Petersons tracking who needs to be on alert today.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Big changes soon headed, perhaps, to the Los Angeles Clippers. In just a few hours, the NBA's set to make a major announcement regarding the team's owner and the racist remarks he allegedly said that were caught on tape, as sponsors pull their support from the Clippers. Is the NBA now ready to hand out its own punishment?

ROMANS: A change in strategy in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The air search officially ending overnight.

We are live in Perth, Australia, with what's coming next.

And welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. Great to see you this morning. Thirty-two minutes past the hour.

And there is breaking news this morning from the South, where more dangerous storms hit overnight. Right now, the death toll in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee stands at 13, but there are many, many more homes damaged, and the toll, unfortunately, sadly, is likely to rise.

Worst of all, this is not the end of this dangerous weather. Even more expected today.

ROMANS: Mississippi among the worst hit. The state is under a state of emergency now after a tornado did its worst in the Tupelo area. Look at this. At least 100 homes damaged and at least eight people there are now dead.

The impact very visible. Cars thrown around like toys. Look at this minivan, this SUV lifted up, placed on top of another. You can only imagine what it's like to ride out a storm like this. Some people did just that about 100 miles south in Louisville, Mississippi. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stay here. Oh, my God. No, no, no, no. No, no, no.


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


ROMANS: The roar of that storm.

BERMAN: It is terrifying, affecting so many people. Northern Alabama also struck by tornadoes. These tore through homes and businesses. At least two people are dead west of Huntsville, the result of what the National Weather Service called a large, violent twister. Another person was killed in Tuscaloosa. A major tornado also touched down just across the state line in Tennessee. At least two people are dead there.

ROMANS: A dangerous situation in Georgia, too. This cell phone video was from southwest of Atlanta, showing a possible tornado on the ground there. There's damage. Thankfully, no fatalities.

Fifteen Georgia counties are under a tornado watch this morning. This is still happening, folks. Arkansas's trying to clean up this morning and make sure there are no more victims from a monster tornado that caused severe damage, at least 14 deaths in two towns. This is west of Little Rock. Those who witnessed the storm called it unbelievable.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Huge. It was by far the biggest one I've ever seen. And 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 came outside and what you see is what we have.


BERMAN: Southeastern Kansas also hit when a two-block-wide tornado went through Baxter Springs, ripping the roofs off of homes, knocking down walls. Amazingly, luckily, no deaths have been reported from there. The governor's promising quick help, though, for those who have been affected.


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


ROMANS: A few minutes, the difference between life and death in Keokuk, Iowa. A tornado dropping debris on that minivan. Luckily, she hadn't gotten inside yet.

Another person nearby died from the storm. And damage there in Iowa said to be extensive.

BERMAN: As we said, this is not over yet. These storms still have so many people, millions, in their path.

Let's get to Indra Petersons for the latest.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, I mean, really, in the last few minutes, we already have new tornado warnings just issued. If you're in Bernard or Brundidge, Alabama, right now, we do have tornado warnings in your area. It is time to take cover. Go to the interior room of your house on the lowest level.

In fact, so many of you today are still going to be under the gun for severe weather. Another moderate risk is out there, talking about 2.5 million of you out towards Birmingham and just north of Mobile, we are still talking about the moderate risk.

But look how many of you here are talking about a threat for severe weather, 73 million more of you here under the slight risk for severe weather. That includes tornadoes. You can see the tornado watch boxes already up, including even Atlanta this morning.

So, we're going to be closely monitoring this as the cells are strengthening at this hour. Very easy to see from just yesterday the number of damage reports and tornadoes, 78 out there yesterday, expected to be just as vigilant as yesterday.

The system is really not going anywhere. You have a low hanging off the coast in the northeast staying put, kind of blocking this system. You're seeing the cold front.

Look at all the explosive nature here in the Southeast right along this cold front. That is the concern. It will be the concern again today. And even in through tomorrow.

Look at this, by tomorrow, D.C. -- all the way back even in through Florida, we're still talking about the same system and more severe weather really just spreading farther to the east. The other side of it, flooding concerns.

They're going to be high. Heavy amounts of rain, three to five inches of rain could be out there, some places even higher, especially out towards the mountains. With that, the flooding concern will be out there, really from even New York City, guys, all the way back down in through the Southeast. So, a lot of parts of this to be watching.

Of course, I keep mentioning the Southeast, so dangerous rip currents, even an enhanced level because of the trees. Very difficult to see and add the rain, another factor. BERMAN: Just give us the area with new tornado warnings in Alabama?

PETERSONS: It is Brundidge and -- Cherry, if you can say that -- don't have that now.

BERMAN: But down in Alabama now, some new warnings, to be very, very careful.

PETERSONS: East and south of Montgomery.

BERMAN: All right. Thanks very much, Indra. Appreciate it.

ROMANS: Thanks, Indra.

BERMAN: This morning, there are more calls for the NBA to eject Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, that in light of those racist comments he's alleged to have made to his girlfriend. More sponsors now have pulled their support of the team, this coming as Doc Rivers, the coach, admits that he believes that it is the voice of Donald Sterling on those tapes. He passed up a chance to speak to the owner by phone about the controversy.


DOC RIVERS, L.A. CLIPPERS HEAD COACH: The last 48 hours or more have been really hard for our players and for everyone, and I would just like to reiterate how disappointed I am in the comments attributed to our owner, and I can't tell you how upset I am, our players are.

KEVIN JOHNSON, MAYOR OF SACRAMENTO: When the hit of cancer is shown, you have to cut it out immediately, and I feel that's where the players are today. They don't think he's worthy to be an owner. So, whether there's a sanction that includes a suspension, whether there's a sanction that includes a hefty fine, at the end of the day, the players feel very strongly that he's not fit to be an owner and a part of this NBA family.


BERMAN: You heard Doc Rivers, the coach of the Clippers. That second man speaking was Kevin Johnson, mayor of Sacramento, a former player who is representing the players in this discussion right now. The NBA commissioner expected to make an announcement about its investigation at a news conference this afternoon. The Clippers play tonight at home, in Los Angeles, against the Golden State Warriors. That's one reason why the NBA wants to get this resolved.

Warriors coach Mark Jackson is calling on fans to stay home, to not go to the stadium, and send a message to Sterling.

ROMANS: But those players, who should be focusing on their game, who should be focusing on their successes this season, what a horrible, unfortunate distraction for them. I really feel bad for those players.

BERMAN: It can't be said enough. No one on the Clippers, no one on that team, the players, nor coach, Doc Rivers, none of them have done anything wrong here.


BERMAN: It's sad to see them paying a price, but you know, and they're all taking a stand against this coach as well, Doc Rivers --

ROMANS: Losing sponsors, losing fans, all of the negative press it's brought the team. It's just too bad, but you just have to support the players, if you don't support the owner for the team.

BERMAN: Exactly.

ROMANS: Now to the search for Flight 370 and an official end to the hunt by air -- an official end to the air search for this jet, missing now for nearly two months. The focus now is solely under water, after officials acknowledge they need to search a bigger area to try to find the Boeing 777.

Now, the Bluefin-21 is not in the water today because of the weather.

Miguel Marquez live in Perth, Australia, with the latest now.

Miguel, you know, the air search over, focusing on the under seas search, but a hiccup today for the Bluefin-21.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, and the official end of that air search was commemorated by a group photo, of all things, about 650 air personnel from seven different countries went to the Royal Australian Air Base up north of Pearce and -- or north of Perth, in Pearce Air Base, and they all got together, chatted. It was amazing to talk to the Chinese commander of the plane they've been flying out here for over a month. He talked about how great it was to work with both the U.S. and all the other countries that they worked with. It was bittersweet, though, for them to have to let go and admit that they were not going to be able to find anything on the surface of the ocean here.

As for the underwater search, it now goes into three phases. The Bluefin will continue to search when it can, barring technical problems or weather-related issues, like you have today. It will continue to move north of the area that it has been searching, toward the area of ping one, which was picked up on April 5th.

Secondly, they're going to go back and crunch all the data they have now and try to figure out if there are any other hopeful spots that they might search when they retool the search. And the third part is, is that retooling. The Ocean Shield that has the Bluefin has to come in to port by may 15th, and they are going to look at all of their options right now and figure out what is the best way, probably using towed devices of some sort so they can get massive amounts of data and sweep very large areas of the ocean. If it comes to it, the Australian prime minister says they will search all 21,600 square miles of it.

Back to you guys.

ROMANS: Wow. Another day of big challenges, big numbers, but the Bluefin on hold for now because of the weather. Thanks, Miguel.

BERMAN: Forty-one minutes after the hour.

We do have breaking news this morning. North Korea launching new military exercises, now drawing a harsh warning from the South.

ROMANS: Plus, riots in the streets of Ukraine. Protests turned violent overnight. We're live there with the latest.


BERMAN: We are following breaking news this morning. Deadly tornadoes striking the south overnight. Twisters on the ground in Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee.


BERMAN: Look at these pictures. At least 13 people dead from these storms. That's on top of the 16 killed in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Iowa. And officials do warn, sadly, this death toll is likely to rise as rescuers get a much closer look at the damage when the sun comes up.

Stay with us for the latest right here on CNN.

ROMANS: And that storm system developing today still and moving east.

Let's move to eastern Ukraine now this morning. Tensions are boiling there. A rally meant to show support for keeping the country united -- well, it turned violent when separatists and demonstrators clashed, this just hours after the U.S. put in place new sanctions against some of Vladimir Putin's closest allies in an effort to de-escalate the crisis.

But Moscow says this is only going to make things worse.

Senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh is live for us in Ukraine this morning.

Nick, what's the latest there this morning?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, today, the European Union joined the United States by releasing more names of people it wants sanctions against and visa bans and asset freezes against some people associated with the Kremlin, but also many of leaders of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic, the pro-Russian militants particularly, the chairman of that so-called self-declared government here, Dennis Pushilin and (INAUDIBLE) the Russian special forces member by Kiev who is running the pro-Russian militants here.

But I have to say, the European Union list comparatively weak compared to the White House list, missing some key Putin aides the White House sanctioned yesterday. Perhaps that's a reflection of tighter European business ties to Russia that Brussels may be unwilling to disrupt. We learned on the ground yesterday, police in Slaviansk, a hotbed of unrest, another body was found down by the river there. Still looking for details on that.

I think the real concern, Christine, is day by day, the currency of the conversation we have turns more towards violence and death tolls. Seeing pictures of violate protests in Donetsk, the biggest city in this particular region, that where a pro-Ukrainian rally was peaceful and calm and attacked by pro-Russian men wielding sticks. Great anger there.

And I think, possibly, a degree of shock in the city, which daily life has barely been affected by the unrest here, now seeing cars smashed up, flash bangs, smoke, and riot police, too, only half effective, really, at all in slowing down what we saw in the streets. Ugly scenes -- Christine.

ROMANS: Ugly indeed. OK, Nick, thank you.

BERMAN: Showing no signs of letting up either.


BERMAN: Breaking overnight, live fire exercises now under way by North Korea in the Yellow Sea. This is very, very close to the South Korean border now. 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.

New audio released from inside the cockpit of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Families of those on board for the first time hearing the last radio communications from the missing plane to ground control. We're live in Beijing with that part of the story, coming up next.


BERMAN: This morning, the families of those on board Flight 370, they are getting some answers about what authorities think happened to the jet. The Malaysian government briefing them overnight in Beijing, detailing some facts about the investigation and just what was on board the plane.

Senior international correspondent Ivan Watson, he was there at the briefing, joins us now live.

Ivan, the families have been asking for this for a long, long time, and they finally got some of their questions answered this morning.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. They've been asking, one of their requests, just to hear the last conversations between the plane and traffic ground control. The Malaysian authorities had released transcripts, but they wanted to hear the actual audio.

And today, finally, Malaysian officials played some of the snippets of that radio chatter. It's kind of hard to understand, but take a listen to a sampling of, basically, what are some of the last words that are believed to have been spoken from that missing plane to the outside world on March 8th. Take a listen.


PLANE: Delivery Malaysian 370, good morning.

TOWER: Malaysian 370, stand by and Malaysian Six is cleared to Frankfurt --


WATSON: And some of the final words there, John, "Goodnight Malaysian 370." That coming from the plane to ground control on March 8th.

Now, of course, a lot more information was shared today. Malaysian aviation officials describing a chronology of the last communications with the plane, describing, for example, that the airline sent a message to the plane at 2:00 a.m., roughly, on March 8th, asking it to communicate with ground control in Vietnam, which the plane would have to fly past on its way to Beijing, and then describing how more than five hours later, the airline again tried to reach out to the plane, this time by calling it and not getting an answer to either effort to communicate with the plane.

Malaysian officials also publishing the serial numbers of the black box, the flight data recorder, and releasing hour-by-hour information about the last handshakes made between the plane and a satellite orbiting over the Indian Ocean from the company Inmarsat, detailing some information about where the plane was, and basically, showing that it was very, very far off course, if it was supposed to be going towards Beijing.

One of the relatives told me, finally, the Malaysians are making some progress, answering some of our questions.

BERMAN: Yes, filling in some of those key moments in that timeline, at last.

Ivan Watson in Beijing -- thanks so much for that report.

ROMANS: All right, coming up next, everything you need to know about the killer tornadoes that struck yesterday and the dangerous weather developing again this morning. We'll be right back.


ROMANS: Welcome back.

He's heading home. President Obama now on his way back to Washington after wrapping up his week-long trip to Asia and the Philippines. The president laying a wreath at the American cemetery in Manila before getting back aboard Air Force One for the long flight back.

He probably won't be happy to see the new poll numbers awaiting his return. The ABC News/"Washington Post" survey gives the president just a 41 percent approval rating, lowest of his presidency, 53 percent of voters say they'd like to see Republicans in charge of Congress. The economy the big driver of this.

BERMAN: Big driver in those numbers, as you well know, chief business correspondent Christine Romans.

We told you yesterday about a security hole in the Internet Explorer browser that could lead hackers to get access to your computer. What we told you yesterday, and now the Department of Homeland Security is saying, your best defense is to not use Internet Explorer at all, for now, or at least until Microsoft has a fix ready to install. The software giant is working on that patch right now.

But again, this is the Department of Homeland Security saying, don't use it.

ROMANS: And one of the big concerns is that Internet Explorer software, it's used on things like ATM systems, a lot of big -- you know, it's ubiquitous. It will be interesting to see how they try to fix that.

EARLY START continues right now.