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Tornadoes Rip Through Deep South; Mississippi Governor Declares State of Emergency; Severe Weather Delaying Flights as TSA Implements New Screening Procedures; U.S. Embassy Warning: Threats Against Westerns in Beijing Shopping District; Trump's New Warnings to Clinton.

Aired December 24, 2015 - 11:00   ET



[11:00:58] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. John Berman is off today.

We have breaking news we're looking at, the brutal reality that parts of the south and communities are waking up to this morning. A devastating storm system rocked the region overnight. At least eight people are confirmed dead, 40 injured. Those numbers are likely to rise. This morning, we're hearing at least 14 tornadoes hit Mississippi yesterday.

Look at this monster twister captured by a storm chaser. Watch.


UNIDENTIFIED STORM CHASER: Tornado! Large tornado! Holy mackerel. Large tornado! South of Batesville. South of exit 43. Large, destructive tornado. Getting ready to cross 55. This is a really big tornado. This is large, large, large tornado. Very large. I'm stopping. Tornado emergency south of Batesville. This is coming into the city of Batesville. Tornado emergency. Go south of Batesville. That's a large, massive, destructive tornado. Trying to get traffic stop. Trying to get everybody to stop.


BOLDUAN: You can hear it in his voice.

As the sun rises, look at the damage. A better look at the damage it left behind. The damage extends across three states, Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee.

Let's get to Victor Blackwell -- Victor?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, there is no good time for this to happen. States of emergency in Mississippi, Tennessee, as crews are working feverishly to assess the damage, search for the missing, and families begin to sift through what's left.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BLACKWELL (voice-over): This Christmas eve, parts of the south and Midwest are destroyed after an overnight outbreak of violent tornadoes. Officials fear the death toll could rise. Dozens are hurt. Mississippi suffered the worst of the assault. The storm predictions center says at least 17 tornadoes touched down across the state Wednesday.

UNIDENTIFIED WITNESS: Went right over them trees. Cut trees in half. I don't know why I'm still standing here talking to you.

BLACKWELL: One of those killed in Mississippi, a 7-year-old boy who was in a car with his family in holly springs.

This video was shot by a driver a few miles away. Watch as a twister shoves a tractor/trailer off a road.


BLACKWELL: Two people in Mississippi are still unaccounted for.

UNIDENTIFIED WITNESS: We heard the wind picking up. We dashed out to the storm shelter. We had 45 seconds, and it hit. We walked out of the storm shelter, everything was gone.

BLACKWELL: In Perry County, Tennessee, the violent storms destroyed at least three storms and snapped power lines as it charged through. State officials say a 70-year-old man and a 69-year-old woman were killed in the county. A 22-year-old man was killed in Ray County. Strong, straight-line winds raced across parts of Arkansas.

UNIDENTIFIED WITNESS: Everything is moving side ways and just the sound of the wind and I jumped and I ran.

BLACKWELL: An 18-year-old lady near Atkins was killed when a large tree fell through her roof. Near Louisville, Kentucky, pounding rains flooded streets. In southern Illinois, this mobile home was shoved off its foundation as officials search for the missing and families sift through what's left, some are fighting to stay hopeful.

UNIDENTIFIED WITNESS: And God's going to show us the good in this somehow, some way. Although I can't see it right now. But I will, I promise.


BLACKWELL: In just the last minute, you see the death toll rising to 10. I understand the governor of Mississippi will be on in just a moment.

So let's focus on Tennessee where the Emergency Management Association there is working with the Tennessee Civil Aviation Group to schedule fly-overs to get a better handle of the damage on the ground. We know a post office was destroyed in one county, a road washed out in another.

While the winds in many communities have calmed down, the rain is a major concern as flooding emergency warnings part-time across the south -- Kate?

[11:05:17] BOLDUAN: Those images are hard to believe. The harsh reality they're waking up to right now.

Moments ago, Governor of Mississippi declared a state of emergency in his state. He's joining me on the phone.

Governor, thank you for your time.

We know this is, unfortunately, a very busy day for you. You do have an update up, just offered an update on the number of those killed and injured in your state. Give us an update.

PHIL BRYANT, (R), MISSISSIPPI GOVERNOR (voice-over): We do, Kate. Thank you for those reports. Unfortunately, this has been a tough holiday season. The storm season came in yesterday, 14 tornadoes. The largest one we think was about 150 miles across the state of Mississippi, virtually from the Mississippi river across the delta into northeast Mississippi. We did issue a declaration of emergency for seven counties, primarily in northeast Mississippi. We have six fatalities we've been able to identify, six dead, two in Denton County and two in Marshall. Two people are still missing which has been a great concern to us. I'll be en route, flying to northeast Mississippi.

My job now is to help monitor the damage, issue the declaration. There's command and control on the ground. We have a 35-person search and rescue system that is in effect now going through those counties, damaged areas, house by house. Over 100 homes damaged or destroyed. 50 more houses received some level of damage. I don't want to get in their way, but I do intend on being on the ground there, the most severe damaged area, around noontime today.

BOLDUAN: You say the update is six people are dead. That takes the total death toll in the region to ten. In Mississippi alone there are still two people missing. That's obviously of grave concern. We learned overnight a 7-year-old boy, he was among those killed. It just adds to just the devastation of the storm and just before Christmas, Governor.

BRYANT: It is. Unfortunately, Kate, we have experienced this before. It is our tradition to visit the children's hospital. They reminded me last year, I was on storm duty in the southern part of the state, so it just seems from these weather systems, very warm temperatures they've had, the cool air mixture generates those storm systems that are here. We've had it before, and we realize during the holiday season, it is most difficult. But all of our first responders are working today, again, neighbors, all of the deputy sheriffs, Emergency Management, Department of Health, Department of Human Services. Shelters have been established. Energy companies are trying to restore some 781 homes that lost power. So, everyone's pulling together here in Mississippi today to help respond to this disaster.

BOLDUAN: Doing what you have to do. We also heard one town was particularly hard hit, Ashland. This is a town with just one church. That one church on Christmas Eve is now gone. Do you think you have a full picture of how bad the damage is in your state?

BRYANT: Not yet. The assessment process will take several days. We're still in search and rescue mode, trying at the same time to determine exactly what the damages might be. Our first concern is to make sure that we have everyone out and safe. If they need to be in shelters, they should have them in shelters. Of course, the two that are still missing, our first priority just now. So, we are in that search and rescue portion of it, establishing command and control. Then we go into the total assessment of damages. And that's our responsibility to make sure our -- the individuals in that storm path are taken care of first. Then we go about assessing storm damage. We won't know the extent until first parts of next week.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

Our thoughts and prayers with you and everyone in the state right now, Governor.

Thanks for your time.

BRYANT: Thank you, Kate. God bless.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

You heard from the governor there. They don't even know the full picture of how bad it is. We know how bad that storm system was rolling through.

Let's get to Chad Myers in the Severe Weather Center with more.

The governor mentioned, I know you've been talking about it, that one tornado that was on the ground for possibly 150 miles?

[11:10:12] CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yeah. I think at times that tornado may have been 180-mile-an-hour tornado. I've known Jeff. He showed his video earlier with the panic in his voice. It made every hair on my body stand up. I've chased with him enough to know that when he sees something like that, he was serious that this was a wedge, major tornado, rolling through towns. I think it's quite ironic or amazing we only lost 10 people up. Think of a storm that big, on the ground for 140 miles, people got out of the way. People heard the warning. The warning was issued because the storm was on the ground because those storm spotters were there, warning the National Weather Service how big it was. They were getting those warnings out and people were taking cover and getting out of the way. Little Rock was 74 degrees yesterday, 23 degrees above normal. That's the warm and the cold that flashed.

BOLDUAN: We know that one tornado was on the ground for a long time. Being reported a number of times.

MYERS: Probably not 12 tornados here, even though the dots showed up. Likely one that stayed on the ground the entire time. 140. Maybe 150 miles on the ground, tearing up, going over interstates and farm fields and homestead homesteads. We get tornadoes in December. We get 24 average tornadoes in December. Not this size. Kate, this was huge. This was huge. I know people are devastated. Towns are devastated. Families are devastated. I find a big storm like this not killing 150 people is amazing.

BOLDUAN: Just amazing. What does it look like going forward now, Chad, as they try to pick up the piece? These already weather people need to look out for on Christmas Eve.

MYERS: Today it's a little more populated from Philadelphia down to Atlanta and in this area here. But the storm is significantly less potent today. Ten times less potent. We may get a couple of tornadoes, maybe some wind damage. I think the threat today is flooding. Watch out especially after dark. If you see water, you can't tell how deep it is, don't drive into it.

BOLDUAN: Chad, thank you so much.

A lot to learn about what happened with this storm. They were just starting to get pictures of what it looks like right now.

Thank you so much.

MYERS: You're welcome.

BOLDUAN: As Chad was talking, severe weather is already causing delays in airports in L.A., Atlanta, New York. It comes as the TSA is implementing more screening procedures.

For more, let's get over to Sara Sidner who is tracking this in New York's LaGuardia Airport.

How is it looking there, Sara?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's looking pretty good. There are delays, not really from the airport going out, but those other airports that are affected by weather, having some trouble. JFK, we understand, has also got about a 45-minute wait. When you look on the board and look at some of these flights, some flights are coming in early.

There is this issue causing a little confusion among travelers with the TSA. The TSA putting out new rules just in time for the holidays, telling passengers that they no longer have the option of op opting out of going through those body scanners. People opted out before because of radiation, wondering if those would negatively affect their body. Studies have shown the radiation is miniscule. The TSA will tell some people, no, you have to go through the body scanners. We will not provide you with someone to pat you down. While others, they say, they may go ahead and grant their wish. It's a little confusing. The big story here is you can still ask to be patted down instead of going through that machine, but your wish may not be granted. That is the new rule that's gone into place for this holiday season and beyond -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: I suspect that's going to cause some additional confusion as folks are traveling. I remember being pregnant and not feeling comfortable going through that scanner. Wonder what that conversation will be like now. I think there are more details that need to come out on that one.

Sara, thank you very, very much.

Coming up for us still, possible threats against Westerners. That's the new warning from the U.S. to citizens broad. Where is the threat and what is behind it? That's next.

And a new arrest linked to the deadly terror attacks in Paris. A Belgian national now in custody. What authorities are saying about his connection to the attackers.


[11:18:08] BOLDUAN: A new warning to U.S. citizens abroad. The U.S. embassy in Beijing telling Americans this in a message: "The U.S. embassy has received possible threats against Westerners on or around Christmas day." That's not all. British, Australian and French embassies are issuing similar warnings about possible threats against Westerners at a possible shopping district in Beijing.

CNN's Matt Rivers has the details -- Matt?


MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A heightened state of alert here in Beijing after several foreign embassies issued alerts to their citizens, urging them to be on guard when traveling in a neighborhood here in the city popular with Westerners. American, British, French, Australian embassies sent out notification online and via e-mail to their citizens, urging them to be aware of specific threats to Westerners in the neighborhood of Sanlitun. No embassies would elaborate further on the exact nature of those threats. It's a very popular neighborhood here with Westerners, as I mentioned. It is a shopping district, an entertainment district and usually very safe.

Now, the Chinese government also issued what's called a yellow alert. That would be the second lowest level on the Chinese government's security alert system. The specific alerts were referring to large and medium sized shopping malls here in the city. The government said there would be added security patrols ahead of the Christmas shopping days here in Beijing.

Now, we did see armed guards outside of the mall right in the neighborhood referred to by those foreign embassies in their notification. We have also seen an added security presence outside of diplomatic compounds here in the city. Our bureau is actually in a diplomatic compound. We saw some of those added security measures firsthand. All of this is relatively unusual for Beijing, although it does see its fair share of security incidents. It was back in 2013 that a car rammed a security barricade in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, killing five people. That attack, according to the government, was perpetrated by separatists from the country's western province.

It's unclear if the yellow alert issued by the government had anything to do with the alerts issued by the several foreign embassies on Thursday. What is clear is there is a heightened sense of awareness here in the city.

Matt Rivers, CNN, Beijing.


[11:20:46] BOLDUAN: Matt, thank you so much.

Let me bring in now CNN counterterrorism analyst, Philip Mudd, a former CIA counterterrorism official.

Phil, thank you for coming in.

Let me ask you first about this district -- this message coming from the embassy that is possible threats against Westerners. What's going on behind the scenes?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: If you go back to the Olympics in 2008, the Chinese were concerned about these western separatist from a province in western China that had separatist activity going back to 50, 60 years ago. They were concerned that this group would embarrass the Chinese by attacks during the Olympics. My judgment is you're seeing the same kind of threats now if you look at the targets, major western embassies in a shopping district with western-affiliated stores which are places that would be highly embarrassed to the Chinese if they were attacked. I think that's what's going on here.

BOLDUAN: The American, British, French, Australian, all sending out the identical wording in their warnings.

MUDD: That means the embassies don't have the specificity to get to a plot to stop it quickly. What's happening is the Chinese will be compelled to share any threats they get with those embassies. Those embassies may be getting threats themselves, by e-mail, for example. They'll share it among embassies, the security officers. What they're getting in, typically in a situation like this, is a group saying during this holiday season, during big shopping time, you better watch out, we're coming after you. The Chinese feel they have to share that with Western embassies if it threatens those embassies.

BOLDUAN: That's an interesting point. After the Paris attacks, there was a lot made of the problems and Intel sharing between the U.S. and Europe. I would say sharing Intel with China poses different challenges.

MUDD: I think it's two-fold. First off you're dealing, most likely, with a general threat that won't allow you to specify the specific location. There's reports about them putting security officials across the shopping district, for example. Their capability to respond will be huge. If they get direct threats against the embassy, though, Kate, in my world, once you get threats to a foreign government, sort of national boundaries fall, have you to share those. Even if the Chinese are embarrassed by the fact they might be vulnerable from western separatists, they have to tell the embassies and there has to be cooperation among them.

BOLDUAN: Phil, it's great to see you. Thanks so much. Merry Christmas.

MUDD: Bye-bye.

BOLDUAN: See you soon.

A new arrest -- there is also a new arrest connected to the deadly Paris attacks I want to tell you about. A Belgian national identified as Abdullah C. was picked up in Brussels. He's suspected to be in contact with the niece of the operation's ringleader, Abdelhamid Abaaoud. You'll recall both of them, Abaaoud and the niece, they were both killed during a police raid just days after the attack in Paris' suburb.

Still ahead for us, the war of words between Hillary Clinton and Trump has moved into new, albeit somewhat old territory. Why Donald Trump is warning Hillary Clinton to, quote, "be careful." That's coming up next.

And a key Iraqi city is under siege. What's the U.S. role in the fight to retake Ramadi? A live report from the Pentagon coming up.


[11:27:42] BOLDUAN: Not even the spirit of Christmas can calm the war of words between presidential front-runners. Hold the fruitcake, Donald Trump is sending not one but two warnings to Hillary Clinton after she blasted him for sexism, bigotry and hateful speech. He wrote, "Be careful, Hillary, as you play the war on women or women being degraded card." That's not all. Later he tweeted this, "Hillary, when you complain about a pension for sexism, who are you referring to? I have great respect for women. Be careful."

Let's bring in Jeffrey Lord, CNN political commentator and former Reagan White House political director and a Trump supporter. And I hope Ana Navarro will join us in a bit. We're having a bit of a technical issue.

Jeffrey, first to you.

Is this smart strategy? I ask you, my friend, because bringing in that warning, it kind of makes you ask, what is that warning about? I put that question to the Trump campaign spokesperson, Katrina Pierson. Here's what she said.


KATRINA PIERSON, TRUMP CAMPAIGN SPOKESPERSON: Hillary Clinton has a serious problem in her husband. I can think of quite a few women that have been bullied to Hillary Clinton to hide her husband misogynist sexist secrets. So we can go there, but Hillary does need to be very careful.


BOLDUAN: Bill Clinton, they're going there, Jeff.



You know, I absolutely think Katrina is right here. Sometimes political candidates' strength turns out to be their greatest weakness. You have people out there, Juanita Roderick, who accused of President Clinton of raping her, and Hillary Clinton threatening her to keep quiet. You have one out on the campaign trail saying how badly she was treated bit Clinton organization. This is something that will come up here as we go on. I don't think she'll be able to get away with the war on women tactic. She's being accused of this by other women.

BOLDUAN: Most assuredly it's going to be brought up because the Trump campaign is the one raising it.

Ana, I think you're with us now.

The war on women argument has worked against Republicans in the past. Do you think Bill Clinton is the best defense against it?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely not. Frankly, Kate, I can think of few things to kill the Christmas spirit --