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Deadly Tornadoes Tear Through South; Alabama Battered By Deadly Twisters; Flight 370 Cockpit Recordings Released; L.A. Clippers Owner Could Learn Fate Today

Aired April 29, 2014 - 06:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a large, violent tornado. There is all sorts of stuff falling out of the sky. This is bad. It's tearing something up.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news, tornadoes on a tear. More than a dozen killed overnight. Communities decimated and it's not over. 75 million Americans in the crosshairs today. Listen to this story about a business being blown away except for the bathroom, and that's where the employees were.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Also breaking, the pilot speaks. For the first time, we are hearing the final cockpit transmissions from Flight 370. What did the recordings tell investigators? We have the audio.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Happening today, the NBA set to make a major announcement about Clippers owner, Donald Sterling. Sponsors fleeing, players angry. What will the league do? What can the league do?

CUOMO: Your NEW DAY starts right now.


CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome to NEW DAY. Seventy five million Americans are still in the path of deadly tornadoes and the threat is clear from the pictures overnight. Just look at this. Look at this storm. There's lightning, the tornadoes are touching down. That's one of 12 that touched down in Mississippi. Emergency officials in the state are reporting eight fatalities.

Remember numbers are always preliminary at this stage. The town of Tupelo is described as devastated. Dozens of homes flattened. We've got reporters on the ground in the hardest hit areas beginning with Chad Myers in Tupelo. Chad, what do you see?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It was a day like I haven't seen in a very long time, Chris. It was like a 500-mile rake and the tyings of that rake ripping across Mississippi and Alabama with so many tornadoes on the ground at the same time. I have not seen a day like it and Tupelo had a nasty day yesterday.



MYERS (voice-over): You can hear the power of this massive cloud churning just outside of Tupelo, Mississippi. It's just one of a string of tornadoes that barrelled through the southeast with Tupelo hit hard. The threat forcing a local meteorologists to take cover mid broadcast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Basement now. Go!

MYERS: The sheer force of the winds estimated at more than 100 miles an hour hoisted cars several feet off the ground, toppled power lines, and reduced homes to rubble. Residents struggle to pick up the pieces. Severe weather spawned more than a dozen tornadoes and left more than 30 dead across six states since Monday. In Lewisville, Mississippi --

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

MYERS: -- another twister reportedly as large as a mile wide. Just look at this field littered with tossed cars and in Alabama about 42,000 people are waking up without power. The severe thunderstorms battered the state into the night. A tornado in Kimberly being blamed for ripping the roof and siding from this church.


MYERS: Now, Kate, in all honesty, if you have loved ones in Tupelo only about 5 percent of the city looks like that. The rest is in good shape. This storm developed and just exploded right over the city. So it's the north and northeast part of town that really got hit this hard. The tyings of rake that we talked about at some point a mile wide.

We probably know that there is at least F-4 damage in places across Alabama and even Mississippi this morning. It will be daylight before we see how severe this is. I heard horror stories in my hotel last night of people trying to drive out of the way. When they couldn't drive anymore they got out of their cars and they ran away from this tornado. They had warnings, but they didn't expect it to be this bad -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: That's absolutely right. You talk about kind of the random nature of these storms, which makes it so difficult. What it hits, what it decimates, and what it does not. It is so random.

Let's continue on this story through, this was a long, terrifying night as well in Alabama. Three deaths in that state. Tornadoes decimating the tiny town of Athens, about 100 miles north of Birmingham. Brian Todd is there. Brian, how is it looking this morning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, this is a neighborhood that has just been completely blown away by the tornado. This area, Athens, Alabama, and points west were in the bull's-eye. You see these mangled cars behind me. This is an area that just got completely decimated. This is an area of complex of apartments and houses. Some of them were manufactured and prefabbed of lighter material. They told those people to get out of those houses and they did.

For the most part people heeded the warnings, but even if you had a house of solidly built material like this, these are floorboards, it just didn't matter. This is part of a siding of a house here. You can see the window and the shutters there. All of it just got completely decimated. Three deaths in Alabama totalled, two of them in a trailer park near here, Kate.

But again as Chad was saying in Tupelo, when daylight comes and people start to come back and pick through the wreckage of what was their homes, that's when you're going to see the scope of the damage. About 16,000 customers just in this area were without power and local officials are warning them when you come back to these neighborhoods, you've got to be careful because still a lot of down power line, gas leaks are a problem.

After a situation like this, and people are going to be eager to get back to their homes. They're telling them, be very careful. There's still a lot of danger. As Chad mentioned, more storms coming today.

CUOMO: Hopefully when they get there they find homes. People say people matter most, but it really just wrecks the family's existence when they have nowhere to return. So we'll stay on top of that one.

Now, the big problem is, as horrible as the pictures were last night, it's not over, 75 million Americans are in the way of tornadoes and severe weather that is in the forecast. Meteorologist, Indra Petersons has been working it overnight for us. Indra, what's out there?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We're talking about still, like you said, 75 million people with the risk of severe weather. Let's look at what we saw in the last 24 hours. We're talking about 80 reports of tornadoes, guys, in just the last 24 hours. Kentucky out towards Tennessee. They exploded, especially out towards Mississippi and Alabama. The concern is today once again we're going to be dealing with exact same spot. We're still talking about that focus area.

This area is so slow moving we're still talking about again a moderate risk area today. Notice the focus here including Birmingham and just north of Mobile. That's 2-1/2 million of you today under the gun for moderate risk. Even a slight risk today including 73 million of you. Detroit to Virginia Beach all the way back in through Tallahassee today. This concern is huge.

Remember, slight risk does not mean you cannot still get a very large tornado in its path. Today, warnings and watches. Here's the watch box including Atlanta and Panama City Beach and Asheville. It's the afternoon when you get the sunlight in there you start to see these things explode. That's the reason to see them pick up toward the afternoon and evening hours. Why are we still dealing with this? There is a huge system blocking it. This guy is bringing you rain in the northeast. This is blocking this system from moving forward. Same cold front bringing all that enhanced weather down to the southeast. Not moving fast. The key thing is though, any tornadoes that pop up those cells are moving very fast. We're talking 50 miles per hour. In through tomorrow, risk in D.C. Back in through Florida. A threat nowhere over just yet -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right, Indra, we'll check back in with you. Thank you so much.

Let's turn to breaking news overnight for the first time we are hearing the final cockpit recordings from Flight 370. Overnight, passengers, family members heard the very last communications between the plane and ground control during a meeting with Malaysian officials. Here is a little bit of that long awaited audio.

Difficult to hear a little bit of that audio because it was played over a loud speaker during the meeting. Important none the less. Joining us to discuss airline accident investigator and faculty member at Ohio State University, Shawn Pruchnicki. Shawn, thank you. It's great to have you here. Great to see you.

I want to get your take. We have waited a very long time. Don't worry, who cares about us. The families have waited a very long time to hear those final communications. What do we get from them? What do you hear?

SHAWN PRUCHNICKI, AIRLINE ACCIDENT INVESTIGATOR: What I hear is when I listen to this, this is basically a fairly routine conversation between air traffic control and an aircraft. There's really nothing abnormal about what we hear here. This is, in fact, pretty routine.

BOLDUAN: This is routine. Walk me through a little bit of what is going on in this communication for the uninitiated. What are we hearing and what we had just played. You hear flight level 350, Malaysia 370. Obviously every time they communicate they talk about their call sign, essentially, right?

PRUCHNICKI: That's right. That's what we're hearing when we see the -- their call sign. What they're talking about, flight level, they're speaking to the altitude that they're either climbing to or they are currently at.

BOLDUAN: And it's difficult to have to do this because the audio quality is not great in what we heard because it was played in this meeting of family members. But do you -- everyone is going to try to look at this and listen and read from it. Do you hear anything unusual? Do you hear different cadence in a voice? Is there anything strange about what you hear in these communications?

PRUCHNICKI: Well, I think the biggest problem there is the quality of the audio is really so low. So those things that we normally look for when we are looking at a cadence, you can actually detect stress levels. They can do certain types of analysis if the quality is good enough. I'm not sure the quality is, in fact, there for that. The audio experts would have to take a look at that and run it through their computer and scrub it a little bit and see if they can clean it up and notice that. They're going to need to compare it to something. They're going to need a previous recording of those individuals so they can go back and forth and try to detect that change.

BOLDUAN: Let's listen to one more portion, that last communication we talked about so many times throughout this six weeks of waiting to hear this audio when they say the final "good night." Let's listen.

And that is what the families have been waiting for, Shawn, "Good night, Malaysian 370." You know on some level many people at home are saying if this is so routine and it sounds so routine why has it taken 50 some odd days to have this released?

PRUCHNICKI: Well, I think that is unusual. I think what we have to keep in mind is that not everyone around the world is comfortable releasing this type of information. Here in the United States, we do this as a matter of routine. In fact, these tapes are put on web sites where you can listen to these very early after the accident. That's not the case in all areas of the world. And I think that holding some of this information close to them just because they're not comfortable releasing it. It's just not something that they do.

BOLDUAN: And it has taken a lot of pressure from the families and outside pressure for them to get comfort releasing. And they even released additional information not just the audio. They released serial numbers from the black box and the flight data recorder that was requested by the family members. They released that as well as additional information.

One thing maybe I found surprising or unusual I wanted to get your take on. When you look at the timeline of these communications, something that the Malaysian officials also released, there is no direct communication between the ground and the plane for some five hours, until 7:13 when Malaysian airlines says that they tried to make a voice call to the plane for them to communicate back anything. And they did not respond. Five hours without communication. Is that unusual?

PRUCHNICKI: Yes, that is unusual. In fact, what is typically required in most parts of the world is that airlines have to stay in communication with their aircraft. And typically can either watch them on radar because a lot of places have their own capability where they can watch their aircraft on radar from an operation center.

But if they don't have that then they have to have the ability to check in every hour or so. So that is unusual that it took so long. I think part of that might have been the fact that at that point in time or immediately after that it was suspected that the aircraft was missing.

So everyone was consumed with other methods of trying to reach them and maybe it didn't occur to them to, let's just try to old backup system that we use because most is done electronically now. They probably went to a backup voice system to reach them. BOLDUAN: Let's try to old way and try and get them on the phone. A lot to discuss further. Shawn, great to see you. Great to have you here. Thank you so much -- Michaela.

PEREIRA: All right, let's look at more of your headlines right now. Overnight, North Korea conducted live fire artillery drills near its western border with the south. Analyst view the drills as a sign of frustration with a lack of international aid. Both Koreas conduct the drills, but they often become tense because of disputed maritime boundaries. The drills come a week after Seoul warned the North could be preparing another nuclear test.

The European Union is adding its own sanctions against 15 people in connection with Russia's actions in Ukraine. They include top allies of Vladimir Putin all facing economic and travel restrictions. Meantime, Russia is criticizing the move as well as sanctions from the U.S. They're vowing a painful response. The U.S. targeted seven officials and restricted exports that could help Russian military.

Today Vice President Biden will unveil a plan to combat the epidemic of sexual assaults on college campuses. It would require colleges to survey students for a better sense of how often assaults take place and provide a checklist for schools to re-examine sexual misconduct policies. The White House is launching a new web site to publish enforcement data. Those are your headlines at quarter past the hour.

CUOMO: All right, thanks, Mich. Let's take a break. When we come back on NEW DAY, a piece of puzzle finally revealed in the search for Flight 370. The last radio communication between the cockpit and the control tower finally played to the families. We're going to get reactions from them and analysis from our team of experts straight ahead.

BOLDUAN: The NBA just hours from announcing possible repercussions for the L.A. Clippers owner, Donald Sterling. Can his team be taken away from him? What can the league do? We're going to take a closer look.


BOLDUAN: The NBA just hours from announcing possibly repercussions for the L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Can his team be taken away from him? What can the league do? We're going to take a closer look.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY.

In just a few hours, we're going to hear from the NBA commissioner about the league's investigation into racist comments allegedly made by L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Those he remarks have triggered an angry backlash from players, fans, even fellow owners. Major sponsors are also now severing ties out of outrage with the Clippers as a result. CNN's Dan Simon is live in Los Angeles and has much more on the ongoing outrage -- Dan.


Well, the clippers are set to take the court tonight. The question is how will the players and fans react. Some have suggested that the far fans stay home as a way to protest as the pressure on Donald Sterling is mounting.


SIMON (voice-over): Donald Sterling seen leaving a restaurant with his wife just hours after she publicly distanced herself from those racist comments reportedly made by her husband to his girlfriend, V. Stiviano.

DONALD STERLING, OWNER, LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS: Yes, it bothers me a lot that you want to promo -- broadcast that you're associating with black people. Do you have to?

SIMON: But here, Mrs. Sterling seems to defend him when asked if he's a racist.

REPORTER: Are you a racist, Mrs. Sterling?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, of course not.

REPORTER: People want to know, Mrs. Sterling.

SIMON: The shocking audio of an NBA owner disparaging African- Americans continued to ricochet with a steady stream of corporate sponsors withdrawing their support for the Clippers, State Farm, Mercedes Benz, Red Bull, Virgin America to name a few.

LEON JENKINS, PRESIDENT, NAACP LOS ANGELES: There is a personal, economic, and social price that Mr. Sterling must pay for his attempt to turn back the clock on race relations.

SIMON: So far, both Sterling and the woman at the center of it all, girlfriend, V. Stiviano, have remained quiet since the tape first surfaced on TMZ Sports. That's her getting into a waiting Bentley. Both NBA stars and fans alike continue to sound off.

MAGIC JOHNSON, NBA HALL OF FAMER: There's a man in a powerful position and a man who should be embracing minorities, not discriminating against them.

SPIKE LEE, FILMMAKER: He's tainting the league and he's tainting America. And when you hear something like that, that is the mentality of a slave master. He sees his players as slaves.

SIMON: All of this against a backdrop of a basketball game and a Clippers coach trying to keep his players focused on the playoffs.

DOC RIVERS, L.A. CLIPPERS HEAD COACH: These last 48 hour or more have been -- they've been really hard for our players and for everyone. And I would just like to reiterate how disappointed I am and how upset I am, our players are.


SIMON: Now, Clippers coach Doc Rivers said he had a chance to speak with Donald Sterling but he declined. How is the league going to address this awful situation? What can they do with Donald Sterling?

Hopefully, we'll get some answers to that when the commissioner will hold a news conference later on today in New York.

Chris, we'll send it back to you.

CUOMO: All right, Dan. No question the commissioner needs to do something quickly. As we see, everybody is starting to spin it and it's starting to foment. So, there has to be action.

Let's talk more about this controversy and what may happen next with Bill Rhoden, sports columnist for "The New York Times", and Mr. Thurl Bailey, a strong inside presence for many years in the league, now vice chairman for the NBA Retired Players Association.

Good to have you both here.

Bill, let's start on the news. What do you think we're going to hear from the commissioner?

BILL RHODEN, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, you know, provided that they've authenticated that the voice is actually Sterling, there's going to be a suspension at the very least. I'm sure there will a ban from day-to-day operations. You will see not see him again at any of the games.

And so, at the very -- at the very, very, very least, you're going to see a suspension and probably a ban from day-to-day operations.

Now, will that be enough to satisfy everybody? You know, probably not because this has become a feeding frenzy and probably no -- you know, anything he does short of saying I'm taking your team away probably will not be satisfactory. But if you look at what happened to Marge Schott, it took actually almost four years before she actually decided to sell the team and that was only when she was faced with multiple suspensions.

CUOMO: Right. I mean, there's little precedent to support taking a team obviously. Commercial enterprise. The owners could get together and compel some type of sell.

Marge Schott, what Bill was talking about there, Thurl, she voluntarily did it and wound up keeping as piece of the team. Do you think there's any chance that Sterling does something voluntarily here?

THURL BAILEY, NBA RETIRED PLAYERS ASSOCIATION: I think there is a chance. I mean, there are several ways I think this can go down and obviously, we'll see what Adam Silver has to say today. But there's a possibility that he could step up and say, I remove myself. You know, I give up, you know, majority ownership.

I'm not sure that's likely to happen, but I know that Adam Silver, Commissioner Silver has obviously a huge task in making sure that obviously it's swift and just to the satisfaction of -- this man is on an island right now. So, it's got to be to the satisfaction of the popular opinion.

CUOMO: Now, on the one side catering to popular opinion is going to be tough, Bill, because the commissioner probably doesn't have the power. Let me set you in a different way, though. Let's ride it the other way for sake of argument for a second.

Is there anything to saying, you know, maybe this is overblown. It was a private conversation. He seemed to be set up by his girlfriend. There's no "N" word involved here. We may have heard worse in the past.

Do you believe any of those mitigations here?

RHODEN: Well, I mean, clearly, it was private and clearly I think if this is a fact between Sterling's girlfriend -- yes, she did lead him down the primrose path but she did it because she knew that he was a bigot.

The problem is whether it's in private or public, if you are a racist, you're a racist. If you're a homophobia or homophobe, and it gets out, and then the world just knows.

Just let me say this. The one thing that is sort of disturb -- not disturbs me about this -- was that clearly this was like a fast ball down a plate. This is 80-year-old guy with this old school Ku Klux Klan type of racism.

Today, you know, I think that probably these conversations are -- had a lot of times behind closed doors. Whenever I walk into a press box and I see no black reporters or when I walk into a newsroom or any corporate office and I see know no black people, essentially the owners are saying the same thing. They're just not getting caught. They are saying, we don't respect you, black people, we're not going the hire you.

And one thing I would suggest a lot of NBA players and black NFL players, when you get a chance, walk through your respective offices, team offices, and find out how many people look like you are in the marketing department and the sales department and the public relations department and the executive offices and you will be stunned. So let's not get so carried away by this -- what's kind of like an easy fast ball to hit and really dig down into the systemic racism in the organizations who, in fact, pay you a lot of money.

So, I think that this is a great launching pad but let's not just stop here at the easy part.

CUOMO: Thurl? BAILEY: You know, I just -- it goes back to the individual. I mean, we know that there's racism in this country. There always has been to some level there always will be. But when you publicly view your opinion, especially in a position of Donald Sterling where you are a man of power, you're a man of great wealth, and you employ a lot of African-Americans.

And they say that the truth always comes to light, whether it's behind closed doors or not, you know, allegedly this manmade these statements. And so I think there has to be a moment in time where you step up and you take responsibility.

It's going to be interesting to hear from Mrs. Sterling at some point in all of this, but, you know, I think when you talk about -- when I listen to a lot of our retired NBA players talk about how difficult it was for them, the journey to get into the NBA, when, you know, blacks had to go stay at another hotel or had those kind of adversities and we get to 2014 and we are dealing with something like this, there's just no room for it at all.

CUOMO: Maybe the idea that it was a private conversation and it may have been subtle in some respects but it's getting a lot of negative attention, it's going to force some change, maybe that's a good sign that the bar is not as high for what's offensive anymore but we'll have to see what happens with it.

Bill Rhoden, I look forward to what you write about it. Thanks.

Look forward to having you back on the show, Thurl Bailey, an honor. Thank you for the perspective.


BOLDUAN: All right. Coming up next on NEW DAY, more from inside the cockpit of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. For the first time, we hear the voice of the pilots on the night the flight disappeared. What can we learn from it? What can investigators, more importantly, learn from it? We'll also get reaction from family members.

And also ahead, 29 people in six states killed by tornadoes and severe storms since the weekend, 75 million people are facing more severe weather today. An update ahead on where it's expected to hit.