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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Winter Storms Leave Over 50 Dead; Union University Campus Looks Like War Zone; Alabama's Ordeal

Aired February 6, 2008 - 20:00   ET

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


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: This is a special we have been putting together, unbelievable, new information, as well as brand-new pictures. We have got one I'm going to show you from Tennessee and another coming in from Kentucky.
Jeff (ph), if we could, let's go to the one that is coming in first of all from Tennessee. You're going to see the very top of the funnel cloud. You see that right there? Look behind the tree. And you see the cloud as it first starts to form, new pictures that we have been getting.

Let's do this, Jeff. This is a different angle of the tornado now. This one is coming in from a different part of the state. You see the massiveness of this thing. I'm going to be quiet and actually let you listen as the person shooting this, this I-Reporter, lets you see what's going on. See the debris being picked up right there? That's part of the debris that is being picked up by the funnel crowd.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have never seen a real tornado, but I could see the tail waving and whipping back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything blew up. The building imploded on itself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Blew all the glass out and swooped us up in the air. And the next thing I know we were flipping and flying and landed over here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was stuck to the door. The whole building just collapsed on top of me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: You can see some of the pictures as they come in, as many as 67 sightings. Now, were they all part of the same tornado system? Were they different tornadoes? That's what we're going to be trying to figure out during this hour. Worst tornado death toll since 1984, we're now building told, 54 deaths, thousands of homes destroyed. And right now thousands people as we speak are still without power.

Let's do this. Will, let's go over to some of the maps and show some of the folks what and how it happened. Now, you're going to be able to see on some of the big maps that we have put together exactly how this cut across the United States.

Now, there you see Arkansas, obviously parts of Mississippi. There we have a representation of all the tornadoes. There you see part of Alabama and then you see Tennessee and you see Kentucky above it. Now, interestingly enough, the first tornadoes didn't necessarily come in that order. It might be somewhat confusing to say this, but last night the first tornadoes were right there as you see them right now in Tennessee.

It wasn't until 3:00 in the morning underneath the screen that some of the tornadoes hit in that area around Alabama. So, as we continue to follow that and give you more information on how this happened, let's catch up with some of our reporters.

We have got them spotted in different parts of the country, four different states. And we're going to start with David Mattingly. He is in north central Tennessee.

David, get us started, if you could.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Rick, the darkness is covering up a very grim scene here tonight.

A dozen people were killed just in this county, Macon County, alone. The storm was so strong when it came through here it left behind a 15-mile-long trail of destruction. And we went into some of those devastated areas. We saw some of the houses that were right in the path of this tornado. Even some of the brick ones were utterly demolished. House trailers tumbled over, some of them twisted beyond recognition. We saw cars that were mangled and tossed across fields.

That shows you just how strong this storm was. We talked to some of the residents here. They say they were watching their local television when this storm came through. They say they had plenty of warning. It hit about 10:30 last night. And they say even though they knew it was coming and they knew it was bearing down on them, once it got here, it was so strong that they found out there was no safe place to hide.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAMMY OLDHAM, TORNADO SURVIVOR: I laid down. The next thing I know, there was a big roar like the train, like everybody talks about. We got into a closet in our bedroom and covered up. And I held onto my daughter. She's got eight stitches in her eye. And we held onto each other until it just passed. The roof just -- it come off our heads.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: And we're hearing stories like that all over Tennessee tonight, Rick. Authorities saying, confirming 30 dead in this state.

SANCHEZ: You know, it's almost 24 hours after the storms now, or it will be in a little -- in about probably another 45 minutes or so. Has that given them enough time, officials there, to try and get to these people and try and help them to get through tonight and maybe the next couple of nights?

MATTINGLY: They have been able to clear the roads. They have been able to set up shelters. They're still in the process, however, of following the path of this tornado, making sure that they have accounted for every house that might have been hit by this thing. And they're trying to account for everybody who is supposed to be living in these houses.

And they're saying, sadly, sometimes when they go to these houses to knock on the door, there's no door to knock on. And in some cases there's no house. They find empty foundations and no one there to talk to -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: David, we thank you for that report. We are going to be checking back with you as well as some of the other reporters and some of the people that you have been talking about tonight. In fact, we're expecting to talk to some of the folks who have been sending us some of these incredible pictures that we're going to let play out for you, including the one you just saw moments ago from parts of Tennessee and Arkansas. We have got those folks on the line.

Now, Tennessee is the place by far worst hit, 30 people confirmed there dead now. We understand 54 is the death toll across the country.

Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen is good enough to join us now. He's on the phone.

Governor, thanks so much for being with us.

You know, forecasters say, sir, that they gave a week's worth of warning. And some folks would look at that and say, wouldn't that be enough to get the message out? Have you wondered, or have you started to ask that question and gotten some answers as to why enough people weren't told about these?

GOV. PHIL BREDESEN (D), TENNESSEE: Well, I thought, actually, we had a lot of warning. I thought the media did a good job making it clear to everybody these storms were coming through.

In the major cities, where there are tornado sirens, they all went off and people sought shelter. And in the more rural areas, there aren't the sirens, of course, but I do think people had a lot of warning. I guess what I would say is anybody who didn't heed the warnings, I wish they would go look at what actually happens when the tornado comes through. I mean, it's just incredible.

SANCHEZ: We're looking at some shots of you now as you come through this area. And I know this is a very difficult situation, but let me ask you about that, because what you seem to be telling us tonight is not that there wasn't a warning or that the warning wasn't shared with the people there in your state, but that a lot of people maybe didn't heed the warning. Have you started thinking about perhaps what causes people to do that? BREDESEN: Well, you know, I think there are issues of people not heeding the warning, but I think there's also the thing of just people are not -- they just don't know.

I mean, you know, I think I wouldn't know if I hadn't been out there and walked around just how strong these things are. You think -- you hear about staying inside and staying in an inside room or getting under some furniture. You look at some of these houses, there's nothing there but a slab anymore.

If you were doing what people suggest and, you know, not going to some place that was safer, I don't know how you survive these things without serious injury.

SANCHEZ: For those of you watching us, perhaps getting home from work now, we are following this developing story of this massive outbreak of tornadoes.

That's illustrative in itself, the fact that it's called an outbreak of tornadoes, not a series, not a tornado in and of itself.

Governor, let me ask you a question, because I know, listen, hindsight is 20/20, but do you think, sir, you as a governor did everything you could have done given what you knew? And maybe as a follow-up, what would you do a little different next time?

BREDESEN: I think the state -- and I'm speaking for the whole state, not just myself -- I think we handled this well. Obviously all the stuff you do with this is, you know, stuff you do ahead of time. Once it's actually happening, all you can do is the media lets you know it's coming and so on.

SANCHEZ: Yes.

BREDESEN: But first-responders did a fabulous job.

And they just reminded me again that we have got heroes in Iraq and Afghanistan. We got a bunch of them right at home here, too. And they sure proved it here...

(CROSSTALK)

SANCHEZ: Well, the folks in your state are listening to you right now here on CNN. What do you have to say to them tonight? I'm sure they're weary. I'm sure they're concerned.

BREDESEN: I just say you have some neighbors who need some help. And you need to help them. You need to show them a little love and you need to help them get their lives back together again.

SANCHEZ: Governor Phil Bredesen, governor of Tennessee, we thank you, sir, for taking time to talk to us. I know it's going to be a busy night for you.

BREDESEN: Thanks. SANCHEZ: We have a tornado victim in Tennessee on the phone, I understand, right now. Is that right? Yes. She's in a hospital bed. Serena Farrington survived a terrifying night. A tornado literally picked her up and sent her flying, we're told, by some of the notes from our producers.

She lives in Lafayette. That's the town that David Mattingly was showing us just little a while ago. And as you look at the picture right there, she's one of those two women, I understand -- oh, I'm sorry. She's on the gurney at the time. You see her right there in the foreground of that picture right there. And she's good enough to join us.

Hey, thanks so much for being with us.

Is it true that when this thing first happened you actually were thrown by the tornado? Is that right, Serena?

SERENA FARRINGTON, TORNADO SURVIVOR: Yes, that is correct.

SANCHEZ: Where were you?

FARRINGTON: Me and my -- I actually seen the tornado coming. It was on the ground about a half a mile. And close to us a place in (INAUDIBLE) a gas line had blew up, and there was flames they said 200 to 300 feet in the air. And the sky was orange.

And that's how I seen the tornado coming. I looked out the window and me and my husband and I have a 2-year-old daughter, and we were all three in the bathtub, and we covered up with blankets. And it just literally -- it probably saved our lives, because we did get in the bathtub.

SANCHEZ: So at least you saw it coming and were able to react.

FARRINGTON: Yes.

SANCHEZ: But once it go ahold of your house, I understand your house was destroyed, right?

FARRINGTON: Yes. We have nothing left. It literally lifted our house off the ground. It took us and tumbled us quite severely.

(CROSSTALK)

SANCHEZ: Here's a question for you that I'm sure a lot of people have thought and have always wanted to ask someone who survived something like this. How would you explain to them as they're watching us tonight how it's possible that your home was destroyed but yet you and your husband and your child survived?

FARRINGTON: A miracle. It really was a miracle.

SANCHEZ: But I guess I mean specifically. If you were thrown, were you protected by certain walls? If the winds were strong enough to pick up the walls of the house and part of the house, then why not you, I guess one wonders?

FARRINGTON: I really don't know. We were -- like I say, we were all hovered over each other in the bathtub, and we were holding onto each other very tightly. And my husband, he's actually in a hospital in Bowling Green, and his pelvis is fractured and all his ribs are cracked.

And I have got a broken bone in my back. And that's the most thing that's wrong with me. And I'll be in a brace for about three months.

SANCHEZ: Well, I'll tell you what.

FARRINGTON: But we are very lucky to be alive. And the baby, my baby, she walked out. She just got a couple of scratches on her forehead and on her back.

(CROSSTALK)

SANCHEZ: What an amazing story, Serena Farrington:.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. We wish you and your family the very best.

FARRINGTON: You're welcome.

SANCHEZ: Next stop, let's go to Arkansas now.

If you can, Will, as a matter of fact, as we follow this part of the story, let's show them the picture. There it is. There you're looking at Arkansas. Each of those obviously represents some of the tornadoes that came through there. Remember there were 67 sightings. That's the number that is being reported to us. That doesn't mean that there were 67 tornadoes.

But it means there were 67 sightings. Well, obviously, that means that some folks may have seen the same tornado and reported it. Still, there were a bevy of tornadoes. This is a small town in the central part of the state along I-40. It's a major east/west interstate. A tornado hit in downtown.

And that's where our correspondent Dan Lothian, I understand, is joining us now.

We were looking at that picture there, Dan.

So, people obviously saw this thing, some of them even able to get out and take pictures of it. What emergency recovery plans do you know are taking place right now in Arkansas for the people who survived this?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN BOSTON BUREAU CHIEF: Well, first of all, we know that the president has called all of the governors of the impacted areas, and saying that he would offer assistance and also FEMA has sent in some teams here to help out. And the governor has also said that he will do whatever it is to provide the resources to help the victims of these tornadoes.

But here in Atkins, I want to show something to you, Rick. Right behind me, look at the orange X. You might remember that that's the same kind of thing that you saw in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina when crews were going in searching for bodies. That's what's been taking place here throughout the day. Crews were going to all these homes, or what was left of a lot of these homes, to search to see if there was anyone trapped inside, if there were any bodies inside.

In this particular home, everyone was able to get out. But, in this particular town, four people died, and a lot of people simply lost everything.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN (voice-over): On this street in Atkins, nothing was spared. The tornado crushed homes, flipped cars, and wrapped trees in sheet metal. This is the aftermath. Imagine what it was like as the tornado passed overhead.

Blake Martin saw it coming.

BLAKE MARTIN, TORNADO SURVIVOR: And you could see the tornado taking out a house over there.

LOTHIAN: So, he ran to his grandmother's house, along with his friend.

B. MARTIN: We all ran to the bathroom. And I was the last one in. And, as soon as I shut the door, pretty much, my house was like ripping apart.

LOTHIAN: Three generations of the Martin family live on this property. All three of their homes here were destroyed.

CAROL BROCK, TORNADO SURVIVOR: You see it on the news every day. And you never think it's going to happen to you.

LOTHIAN: But it did. And it also happened to the Atkins (ph) family across the street. Six family members, including a four-month- old baby and a disabled teenager, huddled in the bathroom, which stayed intact as the house blew apart.

BROCK: They survived. No one was injured.

LOTHIAN: Volunteers swooped in to help clean up and assist the victims, many of whom were picking through the rubble, searching for pictures, clothing, furniture, a devastating loss, but the Martin family, unsure if they will rebuild, says not everything was taken by the tornado.

MARK MARTIN, TORNADO SURVIVOR: That's really all I'm worried about is my family. This stuff, we can replace.

(END VIDEOTAPE) LOTHIAN: Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe was able to tour this area here on the ground and then from the air as well. And he brought up something that a lot of people here have been talking about here, that based on all of the destruction that they have seen here, it's just amazing that more people were not killed -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: All right, Dan Lothian, stay there. We are probably going to be getting back to you, as we try and get more information and cover all the different areas that were affected on this special edition of our 8:00 show here on CNN, killer tornadoes.

With me on the phone now is Tom Fischer. He's an emergency management coordinator for Baxter County, Arkansas, barely escaped from a tornado, as it raced toward his moving car. We understand that he was able to take some pictures. And he wants to show some of those pictures to us now as we speak.

Thanks so much for being with us. We certainly appreciate it.

TOM FISCHER, TORNADO SURVIVOR: You're very welcome, sir.

SANCHEZ: I understand that you have some pictures you're going to share with us now. We have been looking at different shots throughout the day. We're looking at a truck and a window. Apparently your daughter and your granddaughter were in that vehicle?

FISCHER: They were in the vehicle with me. It was my vehicle on the way to my house, which was three blocks from where the tornado landed down.

SANCHEZ: What happened to the vehicle and what happened to them?

FISCHER: I heard a terrific roar and looked to my left. I saw a big blue flash. At first I thought it was a police car. Then I saw it was electric transformers exploding. Then I saw a big mound of debris coming through my car.

It hit the right side of the vehicle, taking out every window in the car and filled our car with glass and debris. Fortunately, we had some very minor injuries, minor cuts.

SANCHEZ: People have always wondered, what do I do if suddenly I'm driving down a road in someplace and there's a tornado? Were you driving, by the way, or was your car stopped? Or did you have time to park and look for some kind of shelter?

FISCHER: I was driving. I had absolutely no time to look for a shelter. When I saw the debris coming, it was on us within just a matter of seconds. And it was a very, very rapidly moving storm. So we had no time whatsoever to get out of the way.

SANCHEZ: That's amazing.

I understand you have some other pictures well once you were able to get into town. Let's see if we can look at some of those now, Will. These are other pictures that you took you're going to be able to share with us.

I understand that, what is it, 60 percent of the town was either damage or destroyed? Is that right?

FISCHER: Approximately 60 percent of the town was heavy damaged, with almost all the business in town, the restaurants, the service stations, and things like that were totally destroyed.

SANCHEZ: That's a restaurant in fact that we're looking at right now, right, Maddy's (ph) restaurant, I think?

FISCHER: One of them is a Levy's (ph) restaurant. And the building -- it and the building next to it were both totally destroyed.

SANCHEZ: Look at this. I'm being told that's a gas station or what's left of a gas station in town, right? You took that picture?

FISCHER: I did take that. That was at one of the Conoco stations. And as you can see, there's very little left of it.

SANCHEZ: Tom Fischer, we thank you, sir, for taking the time to take us through that. What an amazing story. My best to you and your family, sir.

FISCHER: Thank you, sir.

SANCHEZ: These storms were truly terrifying. And the video seems to prove it. We are going to be showing it to you all throughout the hour. In fact, I'm being told by some of the producers here that the pictures are going to continue to come in.

All right, part of what you're looking at right there is a building that housed students, a very particular story that happened at Union University that we're going to be taking you to. We're also going to be taking you to Arlington, Tennessee. That's just northeast of Memphis. CNN I-Reporter Chris Smith (ph) sent these pictures in. He says he stepped out of the office yesterday. He saw this enormous storm cloud, captured it on his cell phone of how everyone on the street just stopped in their tracks to watch the massiveness of this tornado.

We're always looking for great video. Send us your I-Reports. It will be easy for us to turn them around and then share them with other folks. And you can e-mail directly, by the way, from your cell phone along with your commentary. This e-mail address is ireport@CNN.com. We would happy to hear from you.

You can go online at upload it at CNN.com/ireport.

One tornado in west Tennessee hit university dorms full of students. And believe it or not, no one died. We are going to hear from some of those lucky survivors there.

The storms moved on to Alabama, hitting during the middle of the night. People are complaining that they never heard warning sirens. And you are going to see what they woke up to this morning.

Stay with us. A lot more to bring you as this story continues to develop right here.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: All right. That video that you have been seeing, those used to be dorms housing more than 1,000 college students. None of them were killed, but one witness said that the death toll could have been dozens or even hundreds in this case. Now, the twister slammed into Union University. This is a university in Jackson, Tennessee.

The university president said that the campus looked like a war zone when they were done.

We have sent our correspondents out there.

CNN's Susan Roesgen has been following the story from this devastated campus.

I read today that this is not the first time that this university, Susan, has been hit by a tornado. Is that right?

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

And that's actually a good thing, Rick, because it was a tornado just a couple of years ago that made them get serious about tornado drills. The students here practiced the drills. they practice at least once a semester. They have university sirens here that go off and they have the city of Jackson sirens that go off. So, the students know what to do.

And that's why when you look at this amazing video of these dormitories and you think, how did 1,200 students, 1200, Rick, walk out of here alive, just eight students with minor injuries? What they do is they practice going from the first floor -- from the second floor, rather, down to the ground floor. And that's exactly what they did today. The university sirens went off. The city of Jackson's sirens went off and the students went from the second floor down to the ground floor and they huddled in the bathrooms.

The way the dorm rooms are laid out, they're laid out like suites, with four bedrooms surrounding a middle bathroom. The students knew to all go to those bathrooms on the ground floor. And that's exactly what they did. There were eight students who had minor injuries who were briefly trapped in the wreckage, but they all survived and only minor injuries, if you can believe that, Rick.

Also, some of the nursing students here set up a triage center, so they were getting real-life experience in what to do when people are injured. But, again, there were no major injuries.

And we found something really strange. This door to nowhere, you just walk through it and there's nothing on either side. And that's what's so peculiar and so frightening about tornadoes. They can strike and really devastate an area and then just a few feet away other things will be left standing. And that's what happened here. So, students have come out tonight.

(CROSSTALK)

ROESGEN: Students have come out tonight, Rick, to look at the damage, yes.

SANCHEZ: It's interesting you would say that, because I was just wondering. I'm seeing all this movement behind you and I'm wondering whether they had shut the place down or they're allowing students to come in. And how dangerous it is for them to be even going through some of this debris?

ROESGEN: Well, it is dangerous because every single building on campus are affected by this tornado. And so the police are not letting the students come out here now. The police and the National Guard are here.

But earlier tonight they let the students come and look at the damage to their dorm rooms and look at their cars. So many cars were turned upside down, really crushed out here, that a lot of the students want to come and check out their cars.

They won't have classes again here, though, Rick, until February 18, which is really tough, because they had just started this semester. And it wasn't any kind of winter break. And now they won't be back in class for another two weeks.

SANCHEZ: Susie (ph), thanks so much for bringing us to date on that, staying on that campus, bringing us to date on what's going on with some of those students there.

In fact, we have got some pictures that have been sent to us by some of the students at the university. Let's go there, if we can, as a matter of fact. I want to show you some of these so we can kind of break this down for you.

Bobby (ph), take these for you, if you can, while I show you some of these. Let's start with this one right here. I am going to open this up for you right there. Those are some of the students that are actually being taken out right now in a gurney. And you can see right there that area we're talking about where the students have been affected by this.

And I want to show you something else. And this is part of what Susan Roesgen was talking about just a little while ago.

Well, you know what? Let me show you this one as well. I'm going to make this a little bit bigger. Remember, they were in their dormitories. And as she was describing it, they were able to leave their dormitories and then actually go into another area, which is the -- let me see if I can set this up right here. We will get rid of that. This is the area I'm talking about. That's one of the dorms. You see the mattress right there.

They were trained not to stay in that area and to go to another part of the building, which is exactly what they did. And let me get rid of that now, if we possibly can.

But here's the area -- you heard when Susan was talking about what they found in the parking lot. That's some of the cars that the students found. Now, remember, in the middle of the night a lot of these students decided that they were going to try and get out of there, get into their cars and possibly drive away. Obviously they weren't able to do that because when they went to the parking lot that's what they found.

They couldn't drive their cars. The parking lot was in and of itself a mess as well.

President Bush has been in touch with some of the governors of Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama. Many of these conversations taking place just this afternoon. He talked about that briefly to reporters today. Let's listen to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just called the governors of the affected states. I wanted them to know that this government will help them. But, more importantly, I wanted them to be able to tell the people in their states that the American people hold them up in -- hold those who suffered up in prayer.

Loss of life, a lot of loss of property, prayers can help, and so can the government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: As I mentioned, this killer storm trapped a lot of those students at Union University. They were in their dormitories at the time. Most of them were able to get out because they had been trained because as Susan mentioned moments ago, there had been other storms in the past and they had all been taught what to do.

Two of the dorms are nothing but rubble tonight. And as many as 50 students were taken to the hospital.

Joining us now from Jackson, Tennessee, we have got a couple of the students that are joining us. This is Aaron Gilbert and Matt Taylor.

Which one is which?

(CROSSTALK)

SANCHEZ: All right, Aaron, that's you on the left.

Matt, I understand you took the worst of this, right? One story I read from you...

(CROSSTALK)

AARON GILBERT, TORNADO SURVIVOR: No. Matt took the worst of it.

SANCHEZ: Matt did, right.

Tell us what happened, Matt.

MATT TAYLOR, INJURED IN TORNADO: Well, we were in the Waters commons, and we noticed that the weather was getting bad. And we were trying to get them into the hallway.

And so the door flew open and they were in the process of getting in the hall. And I decided, well, I am going to go shut the door. And on my way to the door, I was being sucked out. And so I was trying to get back in to the door. I was screaming for someone to give me their hand.

And, instead, I grabbed a gumball machine that I thought was attached to the ground, but it wasn't. And so I again started being sucked out the door. But, before I made it to the door, the whole building, it just like it exploded. And it was on top of me.

(CROSSTALK)

TAYLOR: And that was the last thing I remember.

SANCHEZ: I understand you had a big gash on your head and you were bleeding?

TAYLOR: I did.

I actually have staples. They put staples in last night. I don't know what hit me. It could have been the gumball machine, because there were tables going over my head and stuff like that. But there was a lot of blood after everything had stopped.

SANCHEZ: Yes, I just heard you say that you were being sucked out. Did -- did you really feel that the wind was taking you out of this place?

TAYLOR: Yes, I was actually trying to get onto my feet. And I was actually -- I couldn't stand up. I was being dragged on my stomach across the floor. And then at one point, it calmed down and I said I've got to get into that room. I've got to make it into the room, but I couldn't. And so, I grabbed the gum ball machine that I, again, thought was attached to the floor and it wasn't. So I let go. Before I made it out the door, the building fell on top of me.

SANCHEZ: Aaron, to what do you attribute the fact that no one was killed there at the university despite what we looked at in some of these pictures that make it look like it's a miracle that no one wants (ph)?

GILBERT: I mean, it was just amazing that no one was hurt at all. I mean, it was definitely the grace of God. From the people that I saw when they were trapped, I mean, it was like they were in little bubbles that God had just put them under. I mean, one of our friends was trapped under a couch which stopped, you know, the ceiling from falling on him. I was trapped under a door that stopped the ceiling from falling on us, so we were able to wedge out of it before I found Matt.

SANCHEZ: And did you know this thing was coming? Did you hear it? Did you see it? Did you hear about it on the radio or on television?

GILBERT: I mean, I didn't know it was coming. From the Memphis news, I thought it was going to miss us by about five miles. Everyone says it sounds like a freight train, but it doesn't at all.

SANCHEZ: But to be clear, you did get a warning. You did feel like or you heard that these things might be coming?

GILBERT: Yes. We had. The tornado sirens were going off. There's a bunch of sirens going off. So, I mean, we were frantic in trying to take shelter.

SANCHEZ: Aaron and Matt, thanks so much for joining us. We certainly appreciate you sharing your story with us. So what's going on with some of the tornadoes in February in particular? What is the storm system doing right now because it's not done yet? I'm going to ask CNN meteorologist Jacqui Jeras about this, and she'll be explaining. Stay with us. We'll be back in just a little bit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You look at this and it's just utter astonishment that not only was nobody killed, but that there weren't dozens or hundreds of people killed. And we can only chalk that up that to the providence of God watching out for us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: How was that?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: Look at some of the pictures. I mean, there you see some of the debris wrapped around a tree and there you see what we often call or you hear us refer to as the loop, when we get that big radar up as it started to cut that swath right across those states. There you see Arkansas and Mississippi and Alabama and Tennessee, as well as Kentucky, the place where 54 people have lost their lives over the past 24 hours. Welcome back. I'm Rick Sanchez. You've got to see this.

Now as we go to our weather maps, you're going to take a look at what some of these storms do as they cut across parts of Tennessee in particular. Remember, Tennessee is where most of the people lost their lives, 30 people. CNN meteorologist, Jacqui Jeras, is joining us now. She's at CNN Weather Center with more on the forces that created these killer storms. What we can learn about them for future reference and what actually happened. Let's start with this.

I understand that this was caused by a convergence of some sort. In other words, you have different kinds of weather systems suddenly coming together, almost clashing if it were. Can you put that to us in layman's terms so we can get it?

JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Sure. Well, you know, we talk a lot about warm air and cold air coming together and clashing, but it's more than that. We had a real classic situation, more indicative of spring developing. Now, the storm came in from the west. And let me show you this on a map so you can kind of get a better detail of where all this comes together.

Our storm system moves in from the west. Once it gets into the plain states, it can start to bring in moisture and warm air from the Gulf of Mexico. So those are two of the key ingredients that we need for severe thunderstorms. From the west and northwest, we have dry winds coming in from the midlevels of the atmosphere. And then overhead, we have very fast winds into the higher levels of the atmosphere, what we call the jet stream. So we have to have different winds coming in at different directions with height, in addition to that heat and that moisture.

SANCHEZ: Are these things -- I know we've got a lot of these terminologies lately, one of them is about a supercell. Is that what this is?

JERAS: Yes. Most of the tornadoes that occurred yesterday were what we call those typical supercell type of thunderstorms.

SANCHEZ: What is that?

JERAS: Well, let me show you. I've got it on a map to kind of help explain this a little bit. I took the radar picture from last night at 8:30. And supercell thunderstorms are the type that stand alone. They're all out here into their own environment. So that you see right there -- that is a supercell thunderstorm or one that would produce a tornado.

Now, you can get tornadoes in lines like that main line right there, but they don't tend to be as strong. Supercells, because they're in their own environment, they can take in all that energy. They tend to be large. They tend to be very strong, and they tend to be long lived so they'll kind of stand on their own.

SANCHEZ: Let me ask you this question because this is a really important part of the story. We have been hearing from national forecasters that they gave more warning for this tornado than they have for other tornadoes in the past. In fact, they say, Jacqui, that a week ago they started warning officials in these cities that they could be getting hit by something as large as this.

JERAS: Absolutely.

SANCHEZ: Was there enough of a warning so there should have been more preparation?

JERAS: There should have been, absolutely. You know, we knew about this for at least a week ahead of time. We've been watching that potential. We had a big meeting about it here at CNN on Friday. Storm Prediction Center three days out highlighted that specific area, saying, this is an area we're going to be worried about come Tuesday.

SANCHEZ: Yes.

JERAS: Then on top of that, that morning, on Tuesday morning, they issued what we call a high-risk day. You only get a handful of those a day. Watches were issued. Warnings were issued, as much as 30 minutes ahead of the tornado touchdown. Rick, the average is only 11 minutes. So when you have 15 to 30 minutes, that should be enough time...

SANCHEZ: Yes.

JERAS: ... for you to get to your basement or an interior room.

SANCHEZ: Hey, Will, go back to that picture if you possibly can for just a second. Take a look at that tornado. Did you see that? This is a tornado that was being seen from in front of a house. Look at the debris that it's picking up. It's going in tight (ph) a little bit again. It will zoom. Look how much it's picking up, and we don't even know what that is. The fellow who was shooting it said he was about a mile away.

JERAS: Right.

SANCHEZ: That is enormous stuff being picked up.

JERAS: That is enormous.

SANCHEZ: In fact, one report that I heard out of Arkansas said that a gentleman watched in his field as horses were being plucked and picked up into the air. Kind of remind us of the movie "Twister."

Jacqui Jeras, thanks so much for filling us in on some of those information that we only seem to want to know about after something like this. There's dramatic video of one of the tornadoes that was caught on tape. Again, this is Galloway, Tennessee. It's northeast.

There you see the small -- you see the funnel? It's also called a column, by the way. See the column right there? And it's not touching the ground so that's why they would call it a funnel cloud. We understand eventually it did and it did become tornadic. We don't know if any -- this particular storm caused any of the damage that we've been talking about. It's near Memphis. It did bring down at least another tornado in the area, we understand, did bring down the roof of a Sears store at a nearby mall.

And we're also getting a lot of video reports from I-Reporters that have been contacting us over the last 24 hours. By the way, do you want to be one of them? All you got to do is e-mail your pictures or your video directly from your cell phone to ireport@CNN.com. You can also go online and upload it at cnn.com/ireport.

The storms started hitting Tennessee and Arkansas about sunset. They moved over Alabama in the middle of the night, and we're going to see more of the aftermath as we continue to bring it to you and as we continue to get different pictures as well. Look how massive this thing is. I'm going to talk to the I-Reporter who sent us these amazing pictures of this huge tornado. Just look at the size of it. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: Welcome back to our special edition of the 8:00 show here on CNN. I'm Rick Sanchez. We've shown you what happened in parts of Tennessee. That's the worst area hit. We've also taken you to Arkansas. I want to take you someplace else now. I want to take you to Alabama.

You know and it's interesting as we talk about Alabama. Rob Marciano is standing by now. He's gotten to that scene. He's going to be able to tell us about the -- well, the death toll there as well. But you know what's interesting -- if this system went from west to east as it normally does, or actually from southwest toward northeast, Rob, it's curious, isn't it?

And you can explain this to us I suppose as well as anyone, being a meteorologist, why it is that the first deaths or the first impact was felt last night in Tennessee and then this thing that you're reporting on behind you happened in Alabama around 3:00 in the morning. Wouldn't you think it'd go in a line? It's almost like it stopped and came back. How did that happen?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, these storms were moving for the most part from the south to the north with a little bit of easterly direction. So north-northeasterly movement, a lot movement very quickly. So the entire system moving from west to east but certainly strong midlevel flow moving from south to north, and you get that multidirectional wind from the top layers of the atmosphere down to the bottom. That is the main ingredient to get that sheer (ph), to get that twist in the atmosphere.

SANCHEZ: But I guess the key --

MARCIANO: That's what they got here.

SANCHEZ: I guess the key here is, though, that it's not one -- people always think it's one tornado or one line of tornadoes. It's many tornadoes. And just because one is hitting north doesn't mean another one may not hit two hours later south of that, right?

MARCIANO: Absolutely. And that's one of the things that happened here in Alabama. The storms moving in separate paths, parallel to each other at different times, often training coming one after the other. This is not one solid line that moved across the deep south. That does happen this time of year. And typically when that does happen, the tornadoes are weaker. But when you get the individual movement, the supercell buildup that Jacqui was talking about, that's when they become strong. That's when they become severe.

And, Rick, here in Alabama, they are calling this the worst, most severe tornado outbreak since at least 1989. Two monster twisters tearing across the state today in the early morning hours. Four fatalities -- one in Jackson County to the northeast, three here at Lawrence County, actually, right here across the street from me, where a couple and their 19-year-old son were thrown from this house as the tornado completely demolished it, scraping it from its foundation. They did not survive.

This is what's left -- just a part of their house, completely against this side of the road, against this tree. Look at the roof. Look at the plywood and the roofing materials pinned against that tree, embedded within those branches. It's giving you an idea of the force of this storm...

SANCHEZ: Wow.

MARCIANO: ... which, by the way, at least an EF3. Beyond that, Rick, you can see a brick home held up a little bit better but for the most part completely destroyed. The roof off there. There was an elderly woman at home. She did manage to survive, cuts and bruises and a broken arm. But there are 80 to 90 homes here in Lawrence County damaged or completely destroyed. At least 20 people remain as of this morning in area hospitals as this community in northern Alabama tries to regroup tonight.

SANCHEZ: That's unbelievable. Thanks so much for bringing us up to date, for showing us that, and we certainly wish the folks living there the absolute best. And for explaining that to us, Rob, for a meteorological standpoint, thanks so much.

I want to show you some other pictures now. Follow along over here. Rob was talking about Alabama. Now I want to show you -- take these again, if you would -- if you would there, Bobby. These are parts of Arkansas. Now, this place called Cherokee Village. Let me open this up for you. You could see the picture as best as you can.

Actually, what's left of most of the town. I mean, we're told this is an accurate representation. When we say most of the town is damaged, that's what we mean by that. We'll get rid of that one and see if we can also push this one up a little bit here.

Now, this one gives you a little closer view of what's going on. What you're looking at right here, in case you're wondering from Cherokee Village, this is the Cherokee Village Fire Department. And these are the folks, the emergency responders, who are supposed to be able to go out and help people. And you ask yourself, how are you possibly going to be able to help somebody if your own house looks like that? They say many of them were able to get out and do some work anyway.

Now, look at the size of something else I want to show you now. It's a funnel cloud. As we continue to follow this story, I want to show you this one. Have you ever seen anything like this or as big as this? I'm going to be talking to the CNN I-Reporter who shot this video. It's just south of Memphis where this happened. Stay with us. We're going to be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SANCHEZ: And welcome back to our CNN special for you tonight. I'm Rick Sanchez. You know, early warnings, there's no doubt can save people's lives. Our next report is from one of you again, one of our viewers. So many people have been reaching out to us and contacting us.

Shane Carr being one of them. His kids got out of school early because of the storm warnings. They were at home watching the storms on television and listening to the warning sirens when suddenly the storm took aim at them, at their neighborhood. I-Reporter Shane Carr is joining us now. He's on the phone in South Haven, Mississippi. Shane, thanks so much for being with us. I understand you shot this video about 5:15.

VOICE OF SHANE CARR, I-REPORTER: That's correct.

SANCHEZ: We're going to be showing it to our viewers now. It is a -- what is it? Is it a funnel cloud?

CARR: I think it was the beginning of the first tornado that actually touched down. We just saw that the clouds starting to swirl, and then, you know, we picked up the debris from after it went behind the first house.

SANCHEZ: And that's where you it suddenly start to pick things up. So at this point it becomes a tornado, does it not?

CARR: Right. We actually witnessed it becoming a tornado. Right.

SANCHEZ: And as we zoom in now, we're going to be zooming in right here, you will actually see things being lifted out of the ground. You're too far away to know what those things are. Care to guess?

CARR: Not really sure. You know, it's tough to speculate. It was going through some neighborhoods back there about a mile behind our house, headed towards some areas that had been destroyed. There were some warehouses back in that direction, so I don't know if it was that far away or not.

SANCHEZ: Look at the size of the stuff, though, because -- how big would you say that cloud was as you first started looking at it?

CARR: The cloud was really big. It was dark and the kind of strange thing about the cloud is it wasn't black like it appears on the video. The cloud was actually a green color. Very strange looking.

SANCHEZ: You know, it's amazing to look at that, especially when you combine it with the stories that we've been getting today of actual farm animals and pets that were picked up by this thing. It's just scary to consider what it could possibly do to somebody else as well. And well, I guess we know since we're being told 54 people have lost their lives. By the way, I got to ask you, where were you when you were shooting this, and were you in a position where if this thing turned and came towards you you'd be able to get away from it or at least get some shelter?

CARR: Well, we were in the backyard of our house, shooting over the fence out into the street, and we knew the direction the storm was coming from and which direction it was going based on the direction our house faces and the weather reports on TV. And we were just out looking at the sky, knowing which direction it was going. And we had this -- my kids and I were...

SANCHEZ: Wow.

CARR: ... talking about it and we saw it turn toward us. We knew where to go and where to get down. At that time, you know, it didn't seem like we were in any danger. But after seeing everything that's happened, we realized we were in a lot more danger than we actually thought.

SANCHEZ: Shane, thank you for taking time to take us through this. Unbelievable pictures. I am so happy to hear that you and yours are safe tonight.

CARR: Thanks for having me.

SANCHEZ: I want to show you what the storms did in parts of central Kentucky now. Remember, we've been taking you to all of the different states. About half of the businesses in downtown Brandenburg were also destroyed. We go there next. Stay with us. We'll be right back with this special edition on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: Welcome back to the special edition "Killer Storms." I'm Rick Sanchez. At least four tornadoes ripped across Kentucky. It killed seven people there. In Brandenburg, Kentucky, as I noted earlier, a twister damaged half of the businesses in town.

Joining us now from Brandenburg is Emily Zander. She's from our affiliate WHAS. She's in Louisville. Fill us in if you would, Emily, on what happened there.

EMILY ZANDER, CNN AFFILIATE REPORTER, WHAS: Well, this is downtown Brandenburg. This is actually part of the city hall facilities. As you can tell, just piles and piles of shredded insulation, ripped off garage doors, ripped off paneling off the ceiling. We'll go around here.

This was actually the former office of the Chamber of Commerce here. You can tell the windows just blown out. There's debris everywhere. Take a look around here. Through these blinds, you can actually see all of the office material in there, all these files around the shredded glass, really just a mess here in Brandenburg. They've seen tornadoes before. We've got some video here of a tornado that just devastated this city in 1974, killed 33 people when that hit. Luckily, no one was injured or killed in this tornado that went through early this morning. So, still trying to restore power. No one has power at this time. It's starting to get cold so a lot of people are heading over to the Red Cross shelter at this hour. SANCHEZ: Yes. We hear the wind right now rustling through part of your microphone. Isn't it interesting so often that the same cities or towns or even buildings will be hit time and time again by different tornadoes. Emily Zander, thanks so much for bringing us up to date on that.

It's "LARRY KING LIVE" at the top of the hour. He's going to have Michael Moore on tonight to discuss, among other things, the presidency or prospective presidencies of the United States. Stay with us. We're going to be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: We will stay on top of the pictures and the information coming out of the storm-devastated area. I'm Rick Sanchez.

"LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.

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