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CNN NEWSROOM

"School Drills Saved Us"; Staggering Insurance Claims; Libyan Forces Shell Misrata; Rescuers Find Dog and Pups Alive; Safe Haven for Kids of Disaster; Texas Governor: Obama Neglecting Texas; Endeavour Won't Launch Monday; Cabinet Members Tour Damage; Congress Returns This Week; Race for the Presidency; Political Jokes Fly at Dinner

Aired May 1, 2011 - 17:00   ET

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


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Meantime, we are continuing to hear very compelling stories about how people survived those tornadoes sweeping across six states. With me right now is Ira Canada. He teaches autistic kids in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Give me an idea, what happened when trying to help a number of kids deal with this threat of tornadoes coming through? We're talking about children who have a very difficult time with a lot of change.

IRA CANADA, LOOKOUT VALLEY ELEMENTARY TEACHER: Exactly.

WHITFIELD: And sudden, you know occurrences as it is.

CANADA: Exactly. And you know students with autism; I'm an autism specialist for the county. Students with autism really have a difficult -- have challenges with change. And -- but they also -- on thunderstorms. It was sort of weird that -- that some of the students were able to cope through the -- through the initial storm. But it was also sort of interesting how some of them were able to -- really had challenges. I guess maybe around 9:00 a.m. we started out with the power outage. After the power outage, we evacuated the kids from the classroom.

WHITFIELD: Were you telling them -- I mean, you know, some may have been a little more cognizant of what you were saying than others. But what are you able to convey to help communicate to these children that something frightening is on the way?

CANADA: Well, we do -- every morning, we do a check in. And in check in, what that basically is, is getting kids prepared for the day. Kids with autism have social deficits. And so, what we do is we provide social stories to sort of prepare them for the day. That could be along the lines of take -- of how to take turns, how to initiate a conversation, how to end a conversation.

On this particular morning, we had a social story in regards to natural disasters. And so, I prepped them that morning to say, you know, thunderstorms happen. Fires happen. Hurricanes happen. But we have to be prepared for them. And so, that was the reason why we do our fire drills and our tornado drills.

WHITFIELD: So, now, you've moved everybody to a safe place. CANADA: To a safe place. We're in the hallways. We lost power, as I said, around 9:00 a.m. and it was just -- I mean, the heat was unbearable. You know, 330 kids, you know, about 20 teachers -- we're walking up and down the hallways trying to make sure everyone is safe and calm.

One of my students with autism, I noticed, second grader, was actually comforting one of her nondisabled peers which I thought was amazing.

WHITFIELD: Very sweet.

CANADA: Yes.

WHITFIELD: And so, we're looking at the damage here of these photographs you took, correct?

CANADA: Yes.

WHITFIELD: So, we are seeing that significant damage took place at the school.

CANADA: Yes.

WHITFIELD: The proximity of that damage to where you and many of the kids were -- how far apart?

CANADA: I'm pretty sure that the initial tornado touched down in front of the school, because after the storm I -- you know, I braved the weather to go outside, I went out to survey the area, and you could see where the tornado had obviously touched down and had run straight through the valley. The school is Lookout Valley Elementary in Chattanooga.

And so, you could see where the tornado had destroyed trees, had destroyed homes. I mean, there were -- there was debris all over the place. And we thought that that was the major extent of the storm until we ventured out past the school and it was even more devastating. And so, a lot of these pictures that you see, these images, are from just past the school.

WHITFIELD: And what was the reaction of a lot of the children once the storm had passed and had quieted down, but there is that kind of eerie quiet that takes place?

CANADA: Exactly. And it was so -- you know, a lot of the kids were still sort of emotional wrecks after the -- after the storm. But I think the interesting thing was parents ran to the school because, you know, a lot of parents, I think, didn't want to seem like they were not caring parents. But it was actually safer for the kids to be at school than in some of the homes there.

WHITFIELD: Incredible. No one injured?

CANADA: No one injured. Nothing. We had probably about five or six families that lost everything. One parent actually sent a text message to her teacher -- her child's teacher, to say, we just lost our home, but don't say anything to the student. You know, we want to tell him ourselves.

And so, it was -- it was really an emotional time. And that was, I would say, in decades, that was the most severe storm that ever hit the city of Chattanooga.

WHITFIELD: It has been a historic storm on so many levels.

CANADA: Yes.

WHITFIELD: The deadliest that this country has seen from tornadic activity.

Ira Canada, thanks so much, of Lookout Valley School. So glad that all the kids, you and other administrators and teachers were able to ride out the storm safely.

CANADA: Yes.

WHITFIELD: All the best in the recovery effort efforts. I know it's going to be difficult.

CANADA: It will be.

WHITFIELD: Thanks so much.

CANADA: Thank you so much.

WHITFIELD: Appreciate it.

All right. Insurance agents in Alabama and beyond are inundated with claims right now because of all of these storms, these tornadoes. Experts say this could prove to be the costliest tornado outbreak in history. And our Ines Ferre looks at what agents are doing to cope with all the calls for help.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TERRY BARNES, CLAIMS ADJUSTER, ALFA INSURANCE: Terry Barnes. How are you, sir?

INES FERRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tuscaloosa native Dalton Gaddis is showing his insurance adjuster what's left of the home he's lived in for 20 years.

BARNES: You had a very nice home here.

DALTON GADDIS, HOMEOWNER: It was a dining room over here. This all out on the carport.

FERRE: Gaddis filed his claim the day after the deadly storm, once the initial shock wore off.

D. GADDIS: We were just devastated, you know? But after you get to thinking about it, you know, the money's got to come in.

FERRE: According to one industry estimate, insured losses from Wednesday's tornadoes in the Southeast could cost between $2 billion to $5 billion. Some companies are sending in mobile offices to process the thousands of claims. Adjusters are going from house to house documenting the damage, taking measurements, and estimating the losses -- a daunting task with so many homes in ruin.

BARNES: I've seen a lot. I don't know how it gets any worse than this. Look around, how does it get any worse than this?

D. GADDIS: There it is, gone. They're gone all the way here.

BARNES: It's amazing.

D. GADDIS: Like it just sucked them out. They were heavy chairs. It took two good men to bring them in here.

FERRE: Gaddis and his wife expect to get full coverage on their policy, plus money for food, clothing and rent while they decide what's next.

MARY GADDIS, HOMEOWNER: The check from the insurance company will help us to rebuild or whatever. But that does not take place of where we lived.

FERRE: But with no other choice, resilience kicks in.

D. GADDIS: At my age, it's hard to start over. But we will. We'll start over. It might not be easy, but we'll make it.

FERRE (on camera): Like other homeowners, the Gaddises don't know if they have to rebuild or start over somewhere else. All of this has been so overwhelming, they're just taking it one day at a time.

Ines Ferre, CNN, Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: To find out how you can make a difference to help tornado victims in the South, visit our "Impact Your World" page. That's at CNN.com/impact.

A different kind of weather crisis along the Missouri/Illinois border: rain swollen rivers there are threatening to flood at least one Illinois town. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may take dramatic action to prevent that from happening. It's considering blowing up a levee to relieve pressure on the river and spare the town of Cairo. The move would flood farmland as a result in Missouri.

Texas Governor Rick Perry says the federal government is not doing enough to help his state fight wildfires that have scorched more than 2 million acres. He accuses the Obama administration of ignoring his request while helping tornado-battered Southern states. An administration official says Texas has already received 16 assistance grants so far and six more are on the way.

Pope John Paul II takes the first step towards sainthood six years after his death. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Happening overseas today: he is now called Blessed John Paul II to the world's Catholics. The late pope was beatified in a ceremony today in Vatican City. That means he is one step closer to sainthood.

May Day, they also call it Labor Day in the U.K. About 10,000 people marched through London -- union workers, human rights activists and protesters angry at government spending cuts and job losses in Britain.

And just walking outside is tough in parts of China this weekend. Just take a look at this, a sand storm turning the sky -- pretty weird colors right there -- nearly blinding motorists. The visibility is less than 300 feet in some areas.

A day after Libyan authorities reported a NATO airstrike killed one of Moammar Gadhafi's sons and three of his grandchildren, Libyan forces struck hard at positions held by opposition fighters today.

Ralitsa Vassileva is here from CNN International, to talk more about Libya, as well as talking more about something very interesting taking place in Iran.

But, first, let's talk about Libya and this claim by the Gadhafi troop that his son and grandchildren were killed. And it was intentional.

RALITSA VASSILEVA, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: That's right. We don't have independent confirmation. NATO says that it does not target individuals, that this was a command and control center -- the house where Gadhafi's son and his three grandchildren were, which was attacked.

Gadhafi himself, the Libyans say, was in there with his wife, but they escaped unharmed. And the Libyan authorities are saying this is a direct assassination attempt targeting Gadhafi -- while NATO says that they didn't, they don't target individuals. This is not an attack on Gadhafi.

As I said, we have no independent confirmation. But in the last hour, CNN talked to the bishop of Tripoli who says that he went to the morgue and he saw a body that he is sure is that of the son of Gadhafi who was killed. He saw several bodies in a morgue.

Libyan TV broadcast pictures of those bodies. You can see those pictures there. The bodies are totally covered.

Again, we have no other confirmation on those bodies. The Libyan rebels have come up with the statement saying that they are very skeptical of this claim. They think that Gadhafi might be, in their words, lying, trying to garner sympathy, trying to draw attention away from what his forces, his loyalists are doing, killing civilians.

WHITFIELD: But, clearly, there was some significant intelligence to even know that Gadhafi may be at that location. VASSILEVA: Well, again, NATO is saying that they didn't target it because they thought Gadhafi was there. They targeted it because it is a command and control station facility that is being used by his forces to launch attacks against civilians.

WHITFIELD: OK. Let's talk about Iran now, and talk of some hacking activity. What's this all about?

VASSILEVA: Well, it's very interesting. This group which originated about three years ago called Anonymous, which is very loosely organized, if at all, it organizes attacks against Web sites which it wants to -- which it wants to send a message or achieve something. It's usually attacking sites that are basically denying freedom of speech to someone or targets, for example, it wants to target now Iranian Web sites because it wants to reignite the protest movement. If you remember two years ago, there was massive student protest movement which was crushed by authorities.

So, what they say they've launched today, early this morning, an attack, a cyber attack on Iranian Web sites. We haven't heard from Iranian authorities. We don't know what it has achieved. But the aim is to support the protest and reignite it.

You might remember WikiLeaks was attacked -- not WikiLeaks itself, but companies that denied WikiLeaks services was attacked last year. And that was the same group I found out which attacked them because they were denying services to WikiLeaks after the founder was arrested.

WHITFIELD: A pretty aggressive group.

VASSILEVA: Yes. And, actually, authorities are after them. And they've made several arrests internationally of alleged members. But, again, it's very hard to track them down because they just --

WHITFIELD: Elusive.

VASSILEVA: They're very elusive, yes.

WHITFIELD: That's what makes them good hackers, right, unfortunately.

All right. Ralitsa Vassileva, thanks so much, of CNN International. Appreciate that.

OK. So, you have mixed up bills in the mail? That's happened to you, right? Wait until you hear what happened to one woman who nearly fainted when she saw her water bill. Join me and Alexandra in the chat room right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: All right. Sometimes we like to turn the newsroom into the chat room. Alexandra Steele with me now to chat a little bit about these interesting little items -- everything from an exorbitant water bill to Mariah Carey giving birth to her twins. And then Bon Jovi is in the news, too.

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I like this one. Let's start it off with the water bill.

WHITFIELD: Yes, let's start it off with the water bill. Huge. It's happened to you probably before when you get a piece of mail or bill. You're like, this is not mine.

STEELE: Well, I've thought that wishing.

WHITFIELD: Yes. This can't be right.

STEELE: Oh, my gosh.

WHITFIELD: Apparently, this really happened for this one Omaha woman. A $17,000 bill for the use of --

STEELE: Four million gallons of water.

WHITFIELD: Yes, oh, it was insane.

STEELE: She said, no, no.

WHITFIELD: There's got to be a problem here. And there was. And they got it wrong

STEELE: That's right. So, I guess the point being, obviously, check your bills, right? Water bills, phone bills, that kind of thing. Not credit cards from Bloomingdales.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And it was particularly difficult for her, too, because she had been dealing with cancer and everything that comes with that, big medical bills. Then she gets this, and this nearly gives her a heart attack. But in the end, big apology coming from the utility company.

STEELE: Absolutely. The next story I love, great story from Bon Jovi. I love Bon Jovi. He's such a charitable guy.

WHITFIELD: He is. He is. He's done a lot in the past and he continues to do so. Now, how about going to a restaurant and you decide what the bill should be?

STEELE: Right.

WHITFIELD: You decide how much that burger should be or fries or whatever else.

STEELE: Or don't pay anything. And in exchange for that, kind of a pay it forward kind of thing.

WHITFIELD: Yes.

STEELE: So, you can serve customers. You can get in the back of the kitchen.

But I think what he does that's so wonderful, he really makes volunteering cool. And that's the key, right? To make everyone say, you know, it'll be fun to go there, fun to kind of get your hands dirty and be a part of it.

WHITFIELD: That's right. And, you know, this is kind of a pay what you can restaurant. He's calling it the "Soul Kitchen." That's when it's going to open.

STEELE: July 4th.

WHITFIELD: Yes. In Red Bank, New Jersey. Right now, he's in the New Orleans area, going to be performing next weekend at the Heritage and Jazz Fest. So, it will be -- yes, one more thing that he might want to talk about when he takes to the stage, right?

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: That's right. And one thing he says that, if you don't say, if the server forgets -- I mean, it's free anyway. But server forgets to ask you if you want it breaded or fried, like dead or alive, and you really get it free. And you give teriyaki -- you give teriyaki chicken a good name is one of the names on the menu.

WHITFIELD: Oh, that's sweet. That's really sweet. And we know that the root of all this is he wants to make sure that everybody gets a meal because oftentimes, people can't afford to go to a restaurant. And it may be a simple as really can't get any meal on the table for that day. So, this is going to be a place.

Let's talk about Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon.

STEELE: Right. And feeding more kids that before, right? Talk about feeding children.

WHITFIELD: That's right.

STEELE: Had two little babies, a boy and girl. They won't say the name, though. But won't it be so cool?

WHITFIELD: Yes, I think they won't say the name because they don't know. They haven't decided, apparently, is the word.

STEELE: And he tweeted that he said -- the cool thing is it happened on their fourth anniversary. And he tweeted to all his fans saying, "My wife just gave me the ultimate anniversary gift ever." Isn't that sweet?

WHITFIELD: That is sweet.

STEELE: And they say he doesn't want kind of a crazy name. He wants something --

WHITFIELD: Like Carburetor.

STEELE: Right.

WHITFIELD: The name will not be Carburetor, not for the little boy or the girl.

So, little girl, 5 pounds, 3 ounces. And for the little boy, 5 pounds, 6 ounces. Did I get that right?

STEELE: Yes.

WHITFIELD: OK, good. Congratulations to them.

STEELE: Yes. Very cool.

WHITFIELD: And this is one of those stories that sounds so outlandish. But then you hear the details and you're like, OK, maybe they didn't make this one up.

STEELE: OK.

WHITFIELD: So, give us the back story.

STEELE: It's a nice heartfelt.

WHITFIELD: It is.

STEELE: And it shows you anything is possible.

WHITFIELD: Anything is possible.

STEELE: I'm a fatalist. So, I believe in these kind of weird things. It was meant to be.

WHITFIELD: OK. All right. Good.

So, one guy goes to -- his name is Rick Hill (ph). He goes to Hawaii first time in his life. Takes the family there. He's on Waikiki.

You know, everyone does it. Hey, you know, take a picture of my family. Here's my camera.

So, this guy comes along. He says, yes, I'll take the picture. They've never met before. His name is Joe Parker, the one who's talking the pictures.

They started talking, just gabbing. Then they found this commonality.

STEELE: And the commonality is they have the same father.

WHITFIELD: In Massachusetts. OK. It turns out the guy recognizes his accent, Joe Parker does. He says, "Where are you from?" "I'm from this town in Massachusetts." "Wait a minute, so am I. I'm from that area as well."

And then Rick Hill says, "Do you happen to know Dicky Halligan (ph)?" And the guy goes, "That's my father." He goes, "That's mine, too."

STEELE: I mean, one of the guys -- the Hills almost didn't go to Waikiki where this happened because they weren't going to go for some reason. In the end, they ended up having to go. And then this happened.

WHITFIELD: Isn't that amazing? So, they're half brothers. Somehow they were separated. We don't know that back story of how they got separated in Massachusetts, but then really got separated when one decided to move to Hawaii. And then they end up meeting ultimately right there in Hawaii, Waikiki beach.

STEELE: Because the one guy was in foster care all his life and actually ended up on the streets, then Waikiki.

WHITFIELD: Incredible story. I just love that. Brotherly love.

STEELE: Yes, I like all these nice stories.

WHITFIELD: I know. It's kind of fun. That's we like here in the chat room. We try to keep it positive, something to put a smile on your face. We like to do that.

STEELE: That's right. The weather doesn't --

WHITFIELD: Well, that's true. And I know you're going to be talking a lot more about this horrible, torrential devastating weather, potentially threatening as well in the Midwest. We've been talking about what's happening in the south.

STEELE: Yes. We'll talk about two things. One being that there is a tornado warning for Memphis, Tennessee. We'll get to that coming up. And also, of course, the severity with the flooding that is causing people, thousands and thousands of them from their homes with evacuations.

WHITFIELD: OK. Alexandra, thanks so much. Of course, I know you like tennis. I love tennis. And who doesn't love Venus Williams? Everyone admires her game.

Well, next week, face to face, we actually met recently in south Florida and talked about just about everything under the sun -- including, when she'll be off the injury list and back on the tennis court. Competitively, of course, they were on the court. There it's all about playing nice.

Well, we also talked about her start in tennis at the tender age of four and what it was like for her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VENUS WILLIAMS, PROFESSIONAL TENNIS PLAYER: What works with one kid won't work with another. So, I was a tough kid and very oblivious, almost. So I could deal with a lot.

WHITFIELD: What do you mean you were a tough kid?

WILLIAMS: Nothing bothered me. You know, if my dad was, you know, making us hit shots over and over and over again, you know, it wouldn't faze me. Even if it upset me, it wouldn't show.

WHITFIELD: Wouldn't yell at your dad and say enough already?

WILLIAMS: No. I never yelled. And then I got over it, you know, two days later. It was behind me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So, she was what you call a resilient kid. Not all kids on the court are so. We're going to talk about that extensively, about, you know, some advice to parents and even young kids when you've got your child prodigy athlete in the family. That's face to face next weekend with Venus Williams. Of course, talk about a whole lot of other stuff. You got to tune in for that.

All right. As Alexandra just mentioned, first tornadoes in the South. Now, a flood crisis in the Midwest. Find out what controversial action officials may be taking to save one threatened town, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Across much of Alabama, indeed, the whole Southeast region of the country, rescue teams are still searching what's left of houses, hoping to find more survivors after that string of tornadoes.

Our Rob Marciano has been traveling that state. You also had a chance to accompany the search and rescue teams and see them up close and personal. And I know a lot of folks in the region are so grateful that they're there.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know, yes. We rode around with them in the very beginning of the morning. And a few people would actually come out of the homes that are still standing, give them a little applause and yell out "Thank you," to which they would answer "yes, ma'am," "yes, sir," because they don't think a "you're welcome" is proper. It's what they do. And certainly, they're calling in this sort of event.

I mean, look behind me. This is Holt, Alabama. And when you look at the devastation here and you think about how long that stretches, not only in this state but in other states. And all the structures that need to be scoured through to make sure that there are no more survivors or victims left, it is quite a job normally done by this time, but now day four, it continues.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've given us a DNA strand that allows us to do what we do, help us to go forward and serve you with it.

MARCIANO (voice-over): A somber prayer at the morning briefing exemplifies the serious nature of search and rescue work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From an unofficial capacity, we can all realize that after three days in rubble, that, potentially, this is the last viable day.

MARCIANO: Crews get their assignments and head out.

MARTIN STANLEY, MOBILE FIRE AND RESCUE: Remember your safety. Watch out for your people. Drink plenty of water. Let's get to work. MARCIANO: I'm riding with Mobile Fire Search and Rescue, a team trained to pull people from disasters like tornadoes. They know the reality, but keep the hope for finding trapped victims still alive.

GREG THOMAS, MOBILE FIRE AND RESCUE: I believe there's a good likelihood, you know, if somebody were in a storm cellar and they had some supplies that I believe it's possible.

MARCIANO: Our assignment is a checklist of addresses not yet completely searched. The first stop requires only a conversation with a neighbor that confirms the residents we're looking for are alive and well. We get diverted, however, en route to our next address.

(on camera): We just got a call of a strong odor coming from this house where actually the rescuers tell me they pulled a deceased woman from the rubble yesterday. Nonetheless, they released the cadaver dog to check it out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come here. Here!

MARCIANO (voice-over): Highly skilled canines work the rubble, giving signals to their trainers.

HEATHER WILKERSON, FEMA TENNESSEE TASK FORCE ONE: She's not indicating that there's anything here now.

MARCIANO: They seem to smell something. But it's not human.

A German shepherd and her puppies have been trapped since the tornado hit. It appears some of the pups didn't survive. But mama is alive and finally emerges from the wreckage.

The rescuers see and hear more animals. They dig deeper and soon pull out a shaking little pup. Two more follow.

They are dehydrated, but seem healthy. This one has already been given a special name.

(on camera): Tell us his name.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Twister. He survived the storm.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARCIANO: That kind of work is so tough on those guys, both physically and emotionally, Fredricka. Finding just those pups alive was, you know, just a little bit of fuel to get them going as they know that this -- this effort is going to take a couple of more days. And that was certainly a little bit of hope in several days of what's been misery for these folks.

WHITFIELD: That's so sweet. You've got to hang on to some hope no matter how you can. That's exactly what they're doing. All right, thanks so much, Rob Marciano in Holt. Appreciate it, Alabama.

So families, you know, a lot of families don't know exactly where to begin, what to do especially if they have children. That's why a special activity bus is actually in Tuscaloosa, one of the hardest hit communities.

To help the kids cope with the aftermath of Wednesday's devastating storm. C.J.'s Bus is what it's called. It's the brain child of a woman who actually lost her own son in a tornado six years ago.

Earlier I spoke with Kathryn Martin about what she hopes to accomplish in Tuscaloosa.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATHRYN MARTIN, FOUNDER, C.J'S BUS: The devastation is just - there are no words. The families, we've already heard from the kids that we've been working with, a lot of them have lost everything. So it's -- it's very widespread.

WHITFIELD: So this has to be very difficult for you, too, in so many different ways because you lost your 2-year-old son, C.J., to a tornado and then here you are going to a tornado ravaged area.

I imagine that all of those memories are coming back to life at a very big, real way. Yet you are trying to help others cope and get through a very similar experience.

MARTIN: It is hard. I just try to keep focusing on the reason that we're here. It's not about me and it's not about C.J., it's about C.J.'s Bus and the kids that have just went through probably the most horrific thing in their lives.

WHITFIELD: So we're looking at some still images right now, some of the activities that you have. How this bus is put to use. It really is a big recreational kind of fun house on wheels.

Describe for me the kinds of activities you're able to bring to these kids who so desperately need it right now.

MARTIN: We do things as simple as coloring. We have a bounce house right behind the bus. We play kick ball, sidewalk chalk. Just the simple things in life that kids love and that make them so innocent. You know, to go out and kick a ball. It's the greatest thing for them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So to find out how you can make a difference to help tornado victims in the south, visit our impact your world page. That's at cnn.com/impact.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD (voice-over): So weather problems in the Midwest have triggered an intensifying legal battle. The state of Missouri wants the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from blowing up a levee. The corps is considering taking the action to relieve pressure on the swollen Mississippi river and spare at least one threatened town in neighboring Illinois. The move would flood, by the way, farmland in Missouri. Last week lower courts refused Missouri's request to intervene.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: How bad is that flooding? Let's check in again with meteorologist Alexandra Steele?

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, you know, Fredricka, what you're talking about there is where the confluence of the Ohio and the Mississippi come together in the little town 2,800 residents of Cairo, Illinois, where they're asking and have been told to evacuate.

And what they're talking about is the flooding that we've seen in the farmland in so many of these areas especially hard hit, southern Illinois and Missouri. Now how did this happen and why as the saturation and all that flooding happened? This is why.

Take a look at some of these numbers. It's unbelievable, Arkansas, Kentucky, Ohio, on average for the month of April they see between 3 and 4 1/2 inches of rain. How much have they seen? Look at these numbers, double digits, 12, 14, almost 15 inches of rain. Breaking old records.

Look at this. In Columbus, Ohio, 7 inches is the new record breaking the old from 1893. Showing you really how long these stand and how serious of an event this really is. Here's a look at the big picture with the radar. What we're seeing is really what's called training more or less.

Think of trains on a train track going over the same area over and over again. That's what we're seeing. Frontal line here more or less becoming stationary and thus the rain moving over these same areas over and over again.

Now therein is the problem. What we've got in the forecast another 6 to 8 inches even locally more than that possibly. Look it here, the delineation of this orange and red, Paducah, Memphis, Little Rock, Southern Illinois, Southern Missouri.

Again, because this front isn't moving, being progressive in taking the rain eastward, we're still seeing more today and tomorrow so, of course, flooding a huge threat.

Also we have had a tornado warning, Fredricka, in Memphis, Tennessee. We'll talk more about that coming up next hour.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks so much. Look forward to that.

All right, a look at our top stories. Right now, Texas, the firefighters there are battling at least 10 major wildfires, which have scorched more than a half million acres. Texas Governor Rick Perry criticized the federal government this week for not declaring a federal disaster in his state. An administration official insists the federal government has responded by giving 16 assistant grants.

No launch tomorrow for the space shuttle "Endeavour." NASA engineers are working to fix a faulty heating system, which delayed Friday's liftoff. NASA says the earliest possible launch date is May 8th. Recovering Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is back in Houston for rehab and plans to travel back to Florida for the launch.

Now we want to get back to our coverage of the aftermath of those devastating storms. Want to take you straight to Mississippi. Smithville, we understand. There the governor, Hayley Barbour speaking now. Let's listen in.

GOVERNOR HAYLEY BARBOUR: Craig Fugate who runs the Federal Emergency Management Administration, FEMA, the secretary of agriculture, Tom Vilsack, former governor, as is Secretary Napolitano.

Secretary Shaun Donovan of Hood and Karen Mills, the administrator of the Small Business Administration. We appreciate each of their being here. I want to turn this over to Mayor Kennedy, the mayor of Smithville. Mayor?

MAYOR GREGG KENNEDY, SMITHVILLE: Thank you. Again, Governor, welcome to Smithville. Twice this week the governor has been with us. We welcome him back every time.

On behalf of the town of the Smithville, I would like to just take this opportunity to welcome you, Madam Secretary and to welcome the other secretaries. Small Business, Hood. Welcome to Smithville.

We're a small town, we good folks. And I just wanted to tell you how honored and privileged we are here in our town to have you all in our community. Who am I supposed to turn it back over to?

At this time, again, just thank you for coming. We're going to be in some meetings to discuss, but thank you for being here. At this time, I'm going to turn the podium on to the president of the Board of Supervisors of Monroe County, Mr. Billy Kirkpatrick.

BILLY KIRKPATRICK, PRESIDENT, BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, MONROE COUNTRY: Again, I want to echo what Gregg said about we just appreciate this group, we appreciate your interest, we appreciate you being here today and we know you're here to help us and we appreciate that.

I'd just like to mention a few things about what's gone on in the la few days. Of course, I think basically we're through phase one, which was search and rescue. I'm going to thank the people who participated in that.

We had a number of people come in from outside Monroe County to participate in that. But we had a group of volunteers that I think to be where this effort is at this point in time, they just weren't going to give up until they were able to account for all the people that we had missing.

And I just want to say thank you to that group. I want to say thank you to the state for the assistance they sent in here with the highway patrol for the National Guard. When you have something like this, first thing you've got to do is -- one of the first things you've got to do is restore order.

And they were very, very helpful in doing that. One thing that's near my heart, you know, I've been guilty of it a few times, Mayor, when I see that big blue and white motor home go down the road, I'll say what in the world is my legislature spending my money on. Don't ever do that again.

That group of people came in here, they -- the first time we met with them they told us what was going to happen over the next three days, and they were right about all of it. Just ask now that, you know, volunteers, thank you so much for being here.

One thing I've learned in this, when something like this happens, we want to go fix it. It's going to take time to fix it. You know, us little county supervisors, when we have a storm, we want to go out and clean it up. We want to get through it.

It's going to take a long time to do this. There's going to be a lot of help in doing it. We want to do it right. And we want the volunteers to stick with us because we're going to need you two, three weeks down the road. And I just thank you for being here. Secretary? Thank you.

BARBOUR: The secretary of Homeland Security who also has responsibility for FEMA, we appreciate you, Janet. We appreciate your team. We're being -- we're working with a team from the northwest, from region 10.

Because there's so much damage in Alabama and Georgia and the Atlanta region that they brought in a team from another part of the country and I just want to say how good they are, how great they are to work with.

A tribute to your leadership, and we're grateful for your being here, the secretary of Homeland Security.

JANET NAPOLITANO, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Thank you. Well, first of all, let me just say on behalf of President Obama that we will stand by and assist the state of Mississippi and the people of Smithville anyway we can.

We know that this storm hit this state hard, and not just Smithville, but wren and a lot of other communities as well also a number of other states. We were in Alabama earlier today. The calendar doesn't allow us to get today to Georgia and Tennessee and Virginia and Kentucky.

All states that had significant tornado damage this past few days. But in all of them, we have FEMA teams on the ground working with their state and local partners. We have the other agencies of the federal government, housing, small business, agriculture, all working together to make sure that appropriate support is being provided and really helping communities come to grips and recover from this really terrible swath of tornadoes that swept through the south.

We'll continue to do that. This is just our -- this was intended so we could get down here and see exactly what it looked like on the ground. That makes the sense of urgency for us even more acute when we see the type of damage we are seeing here today and the spirit of the people that we are seeing here today.

So this is not going to be a quick comeback or an immediate one, but it will be, in my view, a complete one when all is said and done. And that will be, again, on behalf of all of us who are here. I understand that a number of people lost their lives and that, indeed, there are -- two are having their services this afternoon.

The procession may, in fact, go by while we're having this little press availability. And that, too, reminds us of the severity of this storm and the toll that mother nature has taken. And that we all need to come back from.

Now, one of the things we want to do is make it as easy as possible for people to find out and get registered with FEMA. Because we can't reach out to help you if we don't know who you are and how we can reach you. So there's a phone number. It's posted a number of places.

But it's 1-800-621-3362. 1-800-621-3362 or you can go online and go to www.disasterassistance.gov. www.disasterassistance.gov or if you have a Smartphone, you can go to m.fema.gov, m.fema.gov. Purpose of this is to sign up. If you have questions or things you don't know about, to start getting the process rolling so you get those answers.

And also, again, as we begin to work our way through the kinds of assistance that will be made available, the kinds of financial and other aid that will be made available, so that we have a way of getting in touch with you as well so, again, 1-800-621-3362.

If the media here could help us get that out so that people can sign up with us and sign up with FEMA, I would be grateful. Another person I'm grateful for is the head of FEMA who has been doing a fabulous job so far on this in working with his team --

WHITFIELD: Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano there and others reiterating the commitment that will be made for federal assistance, local assistance, assistance of all kinds to not only the state of Mississippi, but the five other southern states that were hit by these deadly storm. We'll have much more on our coverage of the aftermath from these storms right after this.

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WHITFIELD: All right, presidential politics and the national debt. You'll be hearing a lot about both topics this week. Deputy political director Paul Steinhauser joins us with a look at the week ahead.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN DEPUTY POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Fred, Congress comes back to town this week and number one on the to-do list for lawmakers, dealing with extending the nation's debt ceiling. Expect a lot of tough talk from Democrats and Republicans over that and what to do about skyrocketing gas prices.

Wednesday, the spotlight will be on Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels who's weighing a bid for the Republican presidential nomination. He gives a speech right here in Washington on education and his words will be closely watched for any hints on whether he'll run.

The next day, the first presidential debate in the race for the White House. The big question mark, how many Republican probable candidates will be on stage at the debate in Greenville, South Carolina? Fred --

WHITFIELD: All right. Thanks so much, Paul.

All right, President Obama had a few jabs for Donald Trump last night at the White House correspondents' dinner. The highlights can't wait next.

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WHITFIELD: All right. For people who say there's nothing funny in Washington attending last night's annual White House correspondents' dinner, well, that would have made you laugh. "Saturday Night Live's" Seth Myers hosted and didn't spare anyone, anything. Later the president himself, a popular target, well, he got into the act, too.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SETH MYERS, COMEDIAN: Then, of course, there's Donald Trump. Donald Trump has been saying that he will run for president as Republican, which is surprising since I just assumed he was running as a joke.

Donald Trump owns the Miss USA pageant, which is great for Republicans because it will streamline their search for a vice president.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Michele Bachmann is here though I understand. And she is thinking about running for president, which is weird because I hear she was born in Canada.

Yes, Michele, this is how it starts. Tim Pawlenty, he seems all- American, but if you have heard his real middle name, Tim Hosni Pawlenty. Nobody is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald.

And that's because you can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter, like did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?

Just the other day Matt Damon, I love Matt Damon, love the guy. Matt Damon said he was disappointed in my performance. Well, Matt, I just saw "The Adjustment Bureau" so right back at you, buddy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: No! I'm sure Matt Damon has a sense of humor, he laughed. But the Donald, I was see nothing smile. No sense of humor, Don?

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: We were cracking up last night because we had it live, Fred, as we do every year here on CNN.

WHITFIELD: That's the whole spirit of the White House Correspondents dinner. Everyone supposed to laugh.

LEMON: He did laugh a little with the president, but when it came to Seth Myers he didn't laugh at all. I'm glad you led into me with this because we are going to run big chunks of that. We'll run most of the White House Correspondents dinner from last night.

We're going to run Seth Myers and we're going to run the president, but here's the big thing. Guess who is coming up at 7:00 p.m. Eastern? The Donald to talk about that and why he didn't laugh at Seth's jokes.

I spoke with Donald Trump's spokesperson today. You know, he wants to talk about the issue going around, people calling him racist. He wants to talk about that. Seth made a joke about that last night when Donald said, you know, I have a good relationship with the blacks. Let's listen and we'll talk about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MYERS: Donald Trump said recently he had a great relationship with the blacks, unless the blacks are a family of white people, I bet he's mistaken.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Again, he was not laughing.

LEMON: Yes. We laughed at that.

WHITFIELD: Are you going to ask about that?

LEMON: Yes. The birth certificate and asking about the president's Ivy League credentials because some people are saying it is racist. A lot of people as a matter of fact and Donald Trump's representatives said to me he wants to talk about it. So we're going to talk about that. I'm going to give him the hard question.

WHITFIELD: He initiated that. He initiated that doubt that he expressed about the legitimacy of whether President Obama was a good student at Harvard at the time.

LEMON: Then he got into Columbia and then he got into Harvard, how did he do it? The question is has that ever been done to any other president. We'll ask Donald Trump. Fred, she's not going to comment on those things.

WHITFIELD: I'll be listening to his comments.

LEMON: Quickly, maybe you were joking with me yesterday about the royal wedding, I said I didn't watch, it was a girl thing. WHITFIELD: You were rolling the eyes and making faces. You remember that, right? He was not into it.

LEMON: This is just for you. Listen to Seth Myers from last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MYERS: It is fitting that this event happened on the same weekend as the royal wedding, because as I watched the festivities. I couldn't help thinking how wonderful it is to live in a country where people don't wear hats like that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: But some of the hats were fab!

LEMON: Thank you, Seth. He said it all.

WHITFIELD: There were some hits and there were some misses.

LEMON: Gosh, come on.

WHITFIELD: You didn't like any of the hats?

LEMON: No, I don't. I just don't.

WHITFIELD: You don't like weddings, period. We have been down this road before.

LEMON: I don't believe in royalty. I mean, I think everybody is equal. We are all equal and created the same. I shouldn't have to bow or curtsy to anyone. Come on, get over it, I'm sorry.

WHITFIELD: My goodness, OK. I didn't expect all that, but here we are on the couch. This is what happens on the couch. It becomes almost like a therapy session sometimes.

LEMON: With my or guile socks.

WHITFIELD: All right, Don, thank you. You can catch more of Don coming up at the top of the hour in CNN NEWSROOM. And the Donald will be joining the Don. Have a great weekend.

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