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Deadly Tornadoes; Clippers' Race Scandal; New Focus in Flight 370 Search; Crisis in Ukraine: Riots & New Sanctions; Obama Returns Home

Aired April 29, 2014 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning: a deadly string of tornadoes tearing through the southeast overnight. Trees ripped from the ground, buildings flattened. Many people this morning without a home. Indra Petersons tracking where these dangerous storms are moving this morning.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Players protesting, team sponsors pulling out. This morning, the outrage is growing after the billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Clippers apparently caught on tape in racist ramblings. Today, the NBA's set to make a big announcement on this scandal. We'll give you the very latest ahead.

ROMANS: A change in strategy in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The air search officially ending overnight. We're live in Perth, Australia, with what's coming next.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. Great to see you. It is Tuesday, April 29th, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And we do begin with important breaking news, another night of dangerous storms moving through the South, leaving at least 13 more people dead, so many homes damaged, and towns simply devastated. The worst, it's not over yet. Even more severe weather could be headed that way today from Texas all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.

ROMANS: Mississippi is under a state of emergency this morning. The city of Tupelo under curfew after this tornado ripped through at least 100 homes, leaving at least eight people dead, many others hurt. Take a look at this. The winds so powerful, the winds picked up this SUV --


ROMANS: -- stacked it on top of a car. About 100 miles south in Louisville, Mississippi, another tornado was caught on camera. You've got to listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stay here. Oh, my god. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Stop.

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


ROMANS: The roar of that storm.

BERMAN: Fierce, fierce winds there. Damage also in Alabama, where three people are dead. That near Tuscaloosa and west of Huntsville, where homes and businesses were hit by what the National Weather Service called a large, violent tornado. Look at that.

Another major twister also touched down just across the state line in Tennessee. Two people reported dead there.

ROMANS: And check out this video from southwest of Atlanta. Severe storms, possible tornado on the ground. There's damage, but luckily, no fatalities. Fifteen Georgia counties, 15 counties are under a tornado watch this morning.

In Arkansas this morning, many still trying to make sense and clean up from a monster tornado there that left at least 14 people dead west of Little Rock. Some of those killed were children. Others simply couldn't make it to shelters in time, and those who witnessed this tornado called it unbelievable.


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


BERMAN: In Kansas, extensive damage, but amazingly, no deaths reported in Baxter Springs. That's in the southeastern part of that state. A two-block-wide tornado responsible for ripping the roofs off of homes there, knocking down the walls, doing all that damage you're seeing right now. The governor promising quick help for all those affected.


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


ROMANS: That from Keokuk, Iowa, where a tornado obliterated that minivan minutes before she would have been inside. One person died nearby. Damage there said to be extensive.

BERMAN: Indra Petersons has the latest on these storms.

Indra, not over yet. A lot of people need to be very, very careful this morning.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I mean, it's not even close to being over. We were hoping at this point we would see the risk go down, but again today, still a moderate risk. In fact, right now, another tornado warning has been issued, really heading out towards Alabama, in through Georgia, right around Smith Station. Now is the time to take cover.

Again, we are still talking about so many of you affected by the severe weather. Today, it has spread even farther, 73 million of you under the slight risk. We're talking Detroit all the way through Virginia Beach, down through Tallahassee. And notice where, again, we have an enhanced risk. A moderate risk is out there, that includes Birmingham to north of mobile.

Of course, we still have the threat through the afternoon that we could see this heightened. Where are we looking at? Just in the morning hours, we're still talking about tornado watch boxes, including Atlanta, also out towards Asheville.

This is going to be the concern, especially through the afternoon. We'll see these storms fire up. Yesterday from about 2:00 p.m., once the sunlight came in, we saw this kick in. Tornado reports, 80 reports of damage from just the last 24 hours. We know we have the same thing the day before.

Why do we keep seeing this? Well, there's a low off the coastline in the northeast that's just staying put, pretty much blocking this system right behind it. So, with that, you have that cold front.

Look at all this energy with the warm, moist air coming up out of the Gulf. It is just firing these systems up as it pretty much stays in place.

Now, by tomorrow, it moves again very slowly off to the east. We're still talking about storms from D.C. all the way down through Jackson. We had that enhanced threat again for severe weather as we go in through tomorrow. We still have enhanced rainfall rates, 3 to 5 inches of rain under thunderstorms.

So, flood watches, that's going to be the second concern here. We're talking about even including New York City, down through the southeast, heavy rain, which of course, means it's very difficult to see these storms as they are firing up. So, that will be the concern again right now. Smith Station currently under a tornado warning.

ROMANS: Gosh, some of the pictures are unbelievable, Indra. When you look at pictures from Louisville in Mississippi, just unbelievable how wide that storm is and the roar inside of it.

PETERSONS: I mean, what's actually terrifying is we saw a number of these yesterday, I mean, over and over again and some of them are long-track tornadoes, meaning they're on the ground for a long period of time, cycling up and going back down again. People going into those evening hours, knowing that these were out there. Absolutely terrifying.

BERMAN: The weather system just sitting there.

PETERSONS: Just sitting there. Wish we could change it.

ROMANS: Indra Petersons, a lot of hard work today. Indra, thanks.

All right. This morning, more companies backing away from the Los Angeles Clippers. At least 12 companies have pulled their sponsorships 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 about the next steps.

Stephanie Elam has the latest for us this morning from Los Angeles.


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.


BERMAN: Thanks to Stephanie Elam for that.

Seven minutes after the hour.

Now the Flight 370 search. This morning, the underwater hunt for the missing jet temporarily suspended. The weather keeping the Bluefin-21 out of the water, this as the air search has officially ended. They are done searching from the skies.

Miguel Marquez live in Perth, Australia.

And, Miguel, this is, you know, for a lot of people, a sad milestone. MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is sad and frustrating for those crews specifically who were out there every day and staring out at that ocean in the long flights that they had to do every single day for the last 40 or 50 days. Some of them, it has just been very, very tough going. Some of them have been searching in all three areas across, you know, the area, the wide area where the plane was meant to go down.

It was all done in a commemoration today, sort of a commemoration and farewell, where 650 service members from seven different countries got together on the tarmac to take a group photo. Pretty amazing to see Chinese pilots chatting with American pilots, chatting with Australian pilots, chatting with Japanese pilots. Really a global effort that you do not see in this case ever, but they are sad to see this one go without coming up with any piece of that plane.

That said, officials here believe that they're very much searching in the right place. The Bluefin-21 will continue to search. It's now searched 100 percent of the area that it was most interested in, but now they're searching north of that, toward the area of the first ping.

They will also look for other areas that are promising, if they have to go to those. At the same time, they will bring in new gear and they will begin the process of laying down the process for how they are going to search a very, very wide area, some 21,600 square miles. If it all goes to plan, if they have to search all that, it could take eight months at the least. It's going to be a long time before they find this plane, if that is the case.

BERMAN: Yes, Miguel, eight months if it all goes well.

Miguel Marquez in Perth, Australia, for us -- thanks so much.

ROMANS: Wow, that's some perspective.

All right, the crisis in Ukraine escalating overnight. Riots in the streets, demonstrators battling with pro-Russian protesters. Bloodshed happening as the U.S. announces brand new sanctions against Russia. We're live on the ground in Ukraine with the very latest on this.


BERMAN: All right, we do have breaking news, an important update on the deadly tornadoes striking the South overnight, striking the South right now. Twisters on the ground in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, leaving at least 13 people dead. That's on top of 16 killed in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Iowa. Officials warn the death toll is likely to rise as rescuers get a closer look at the damage.

Stay with us here. No, I should say, we do have news now of a tornado on the ground in Alabama.

Indra, give us the latest. PETERSONS: We have a tornado emergency. We have a confirmed tornado for that tornado warning around the Smith Station location. We're talking about seven miles south of Smith there in towards Alabama, moving in through Georgia.

Keep in mind, this is a very fast-moving system, talking about it moving at 50 miles per hour. It is dark outside. If you know anyone in the region, call them, wake them up and tell them to take shelter, lowest, most interior level of the house. And if you have a helmet, I know think that's strange, put that helmet on to protect your head from injury.

BERMAN: Very important.

ROMANS: Really?

PETERSONS: Very important.

BERMAN: It's a dangerous time for these storms to be hitting, as people just waking up.

All right. Indra, thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right, this morning, eastern Ukraine teetering closer to the breaking point after a rally turned violent in Donetsk. Demonstrators calling the country to stay together. They were set upon by separatist with clubs and whips, reportedly declaring, quote, "This place is Russia." And it came 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 will only make things worse.

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

Nick, bring us up to speed. What's happening now?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, European Union has unleashed the names of people to be sanctioned, this list of names of people to be sanctioned, and frankly, it's weaker than that which we saw from the White House yesterday.

There are key figures here, part of what Kiev calls the sort of pro- Russian separatist movement here. The chairman of the self-declared government and a man who's said to run the Russian special forces units, Kiev claims pushing the pro-Russian militancy in this particular area. It doesn't contain some of the key Kremlin Putin aides who were sanctioned by the White House.

But today, no real sign that these sanctions have changed things on the ground. Troubling reports confirmed by police that yesterday another body was found by the river in Slaviansk. That's the sort of hot bed of the unrest here, near where I'm standing.

We're also hearing that the mayor of the second largest city in Ukraine, he was shot out while exercising in the town. He was shot and very badly injured, has, in fact, now been moved to Israel, air- lifted there for further treatment.

And at the same time, too, we're also, of course, letting people in Donetsk, they're digesting the troubling scene they saw last night in the center of that city, where a pro-Ukrainian protest was broken up, many say by pro-Russian protesters armed with sticks, clubs, other types of weapons. A number of people injured there.

And I think, really, above all, that troubling scene of the unrest we've seen in the towns outlying the Donetsk region, right in the city center of Donetsk, which for now, really, have been going about its business quite normal. But instead, last night, saw those troubling scenes -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Nick. Thanks for that report, Nick Paton Walsh for us.

BERMAN: All right. The Obama administration will not 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 had said revealing that information could undermine operations overseas.

ROMANS: President Obama is on his way back home to Washington this morning after wrapping up a four-nation, week-long Asia trip. His last stop in the Philippines, the president placed a wreath at an American cemetery. Mr. Obama is returning to some of the worst approval numbers of his presidency.

A new ABC News/"Washington Post" poll puts his approval at just 41 percent, the lowest since he came to office, and 53 percent of voters say they'd like to see Republicans in charge of Congress.

BERMAN: It's the economy, not Obamacare.

ROMANS: It is.

BERMAN: It's the economy that's a big driver of the negative numbers right now.

ROMANS: The economy is improving, but not for a big chunk of people who are either underemployed or have been unemployed too long.

BERMAN: Some other political news to tell you about right now. New York congressman Michael Grimm has pleaded not guilty to federal fraud charges, this after being slammed with a 20-count indictment claiming he underreported employee wages at a restaurant that he once owned, concealed more than $1 million in earnings, also charged with lying under oath. The former FBI agent and former marine faces up to 20 years, if convicted. Right now, he says he plans to run for re- election.

ROMANS: The so-called kissing congressman won't run for another term. Louisiana Representative Vance McAllister announcing he'll give up the job early next year, a year after voters chose him in a special election. A few weeks ago, McAllister was caught on camera kissing an aide. He apologized again, saying he's now reconciled with his wife and his family after letting them down.

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

Happening today: the Supreme Court takes up the question of when police can search your cell phone if they don't have a warrant. The justices will explore two cases involving suspects who were arrested and then had their phones examined by police. The government says a quick search is necessary to secure the contents of the phone, but opponents argue, once the phone is in police possession, there is plenty of time to get a warrant.

ROMANS: Boring and safe. No, not John Berman. That's how investors on Wall Street are playing it this week. Dow futures point to a higher open today after closing higher yesterday. European stocks up as well. The big winners, these so-called safe stocks, consumer staple companies, telecoms.

Financial stocks, on the other hand, started off the week pretty hard hit. One reason, Bank of America. The company admitted yesterday bad math on its balance sheet. B of A, which is the country's second largest bank by assets, said it made a, quote, "incorrect adjustment" on its books tied to the 2009 purchase of Merrill Lynch. That means the bank doesn't have as much cash on hand as previously thought. It will have to cancel previous plans to give money back to shareholders. That's why the stock is down.

BERMAN: Safe and boring, huh?

ROMANS: Safe and boring, boring and safe.

BERMAN: I'm very, very dangerous. Don't listen to her.

Eighteen minutes after the hour right now.

ROMANS: NBA players making clear they don't like those racially charged comments attributed to Clippers owner Donald Sterling, protesting on and off the court. We've got Andy Scholes with all the details in his "Bleacher Report," next.


BERMAN: It is a big day in sports and beyond. We should learn what the NBA plans to do about Clippers owner Donald Sterling and the alleged racist comments he made later today. In the meantime, teams all around the league, including the Miami Heat, showing solidarity with the Clippers players.

ROMANS: Andy Scholes joins us now with more on this morning's "Bleacher Report."

Hey, there. ANDY SCHOLES, BLEACHER REPORT: Hey, good morning, guys.

You know, right when Donald Sterling's alleged comments became public, LeBron was one of the first to say that there was no place for him in the NBA. Before last night's game four against the bobcats, the entire Heat team, just like the clippers, went to center court, removed their shooting shirts and went through their pregame routine with their warm-ups inside-out.

Now, as for the game, LeBron, he took care of business, scoring a game-high 31 points as the heat completed the sweep of the Bobcats. In a pretty cool moment there, Michael Jordan congratulating LeBron on winning the series.

Now, in his postgame press conference, LeBron once again said that Donald Sterling needs to go.


LEBRON JAMES, MIAMI HEAT: (INAUDIBLE) an owner like that, and for us as basketball players, we are all brothers. We're competing against each other in this postseason and all of us want to win for our respective ball clubs. But at the end of the day, as players, we've got to stick together, and we supported our Clippers tonight and showed our respect to what they're doing and what they're going through.


SCHOLES: One of the top stories on this morning is the sinking ship that is the Indiana Pacers. Pacers are the one seed in the Eastern Conference, but they are hardly looking like it in this year's playoffs. The Hawks behind a three-point barrage scored 41 points in the second quarter alone. They went on to easily win the game. And they're now just one win away from pulling off the monumental upset. And as you can imagine, Larry Bird not very happy about this.

All right, the battle for Texas between the Spurs and Mavs continues to be a heated one. Mavs up one late in the fourth quarter. DeJuan Blair and Tiago Splitter get tangled up and Blair just kicked Splitter in the head. He was ejected for that. Minutes later, Boris Diaw come through with a huge three-pointer. Spurs squeak out the win 93-89 to even the series at two games apiece.

The playoffs, of course, continue tonight with three games on tap. All eyes will be on L.A. as the Clippers return home to host the Warriors. That game tips off at 10:30 Eastern on TNT.

And yesterday, Warriors head coach Mark Jackson said fans should boycott the game. He said the loudest statement they could make would be not to come to the Staples Center tonight. So, it's going to be interesting to see what fans do. Of course, they want to support their Clippers, but at the same time, they don't want to put more money in Donald Sterling's pocket. ROMANS: And for the players who have been working for this all season, to be sort of robbed of that glory of the playoffs by their, you know, by their owner is just really --

SCHOLES: Terrible timing.

BERMAN: Hate to see them caught in the middle. They have done nothing wrong and I hope the fans stand behind the players.

ROMANS: Yes, absolutely.

BERMAN: Andy Scholes, great to see you this morning. Thanks so much.

ROAMNS: All right. Breaking news developing at this moment, dozens of tornadoes touching down last night, thousands waking up to devastation all around them. The death toll rising this morning, and this storm system is still churning. We're bringing you everything you need to know, next.