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IN THE ARENA

Tornado Kills 116 in Joplin, Missouri; Debt Ceiling Fight

Aired May 23, 2011 - 20:00   ET

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


ELIOT SPITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. I'm Eliot Spitzer reporting from Washington tonight. Welcome to the program. It's as American as you can get. Joplin, Missouri, population, 50,000. A mining town established in 1873.

It was named after a Methodist minister, but in the best western tradition it quickly became known for its saloon and its gambling. Joplin's web site proudly celebrates its colorful and prosperous history.

But today, a new and awful chapter is being written, nearly half of the city is gone, swept away. A 116 people are dead with that toll expected to rise.

Now I want to show you two different perspectives of a tornado. First from the outside, through the eyes of a storm chaser and then from the inside, 20 people huddled in a refrigeration unit in a convenience store. Watch and listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Guys, the tornado is trying to come down right here. The winds are out of the north and it's coming right back around. Tornado is right here. It's coming on the ground right here. Get sirens going. Get the sirens going.

I'm telling you. I got debris on the ground over here. I got debris on the ground. It's coming up north. It's debris. Tornado coming into the city. Wedge on the ground. This is storm chaser. I have a large destructive tornado on southwest side of Joplin.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Back up!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am. It's tearing up the entire city on the south side of Joplin right now. This is Jeff. It's a massive tornado. Just massive destruction. It's a mile wide tornado. It's leveling the south side of Joplin right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're good. We're good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's OK.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jesus, Jesus --

(END VIDEO CLIP) SPITZER: Thankfully all of those people survived. I'll talk to the governor of Missouri in just a moment, but first a look at the other stories we'll be covering tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPITZER (voice-over): Did Netanyahu blow it? Israel's prime minister draws a line in the sand and Obama walks over it. If your best friend can't tell you you're wrong, who can?

And a game of chicken. That's what the Republicans and Democrats are playing with the budget deficit. What happens if the deadline comes and nobody blinks?

FEMA is a four letter word in New Orleans. In Joplin, they're already on the ground helping the victims. We talk to the man in charge to ask if they learned from their mistakes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SPITZER: Breaking news right now. There's more frightening activity in the area called tornado alley. Tonight, Chad Myers is standing by in our severe weather center. Chad, what are you seeing on those screens causing such consternation?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Eliot, it's hard to believe that tonight was going to be a night kind of in between storms and tomorrow was going to get exciting. North Carolina, tornado warning. Allentown, Pennsylvania, 10 miles to the north, tornado on the ground right now.

Just had a tornado move to the south of Cleveland, Ohio. No reports of any damage. A couple warnings just to the north of Cincinnati. More weather into Hopkinsville into Kentucky and Tennessee there and then weather here into parts of Joplin, into Tulsa, and Oklahoma City.

Now, all of this even affecting some of our live shots coming out of Joplin, Missouri trying to bring you those terrible stories of what's going on there. This is going to be another night where we're going to see tornadoes again probably on the ground.

The bigger story will be tomorrow night when warm air and cold air clash again. It's when warm air is on the ground and cold air is aloft and there's spinning in the atmosphere. During the day the humidity and the air on the ground heats up. It wants to bubble like a hot air balloon.

It goes straight into the atmosphere. Last night that Joplin storm, the top of it, was 60,000 feet tall, higher than any jet plane can fly. Any plane in the area would have had to fly around that storm. Then it begins to spin, hail will fall and tornadoes will fall out of the bottom of it the cell. That's what we had last night. That's what we're going to have.

It just doesn't seem, Eliot, like this is going to stop any time soon. Tomorrow will even be a more severe day than we're seeing right now and for tonight. We could have 50 tornadoes on the ground tomorrow, at least 50 reports.

Yesterday there was one big tornado. One and it hit Joplin, Missouri. It killed 116 people so far. They are still finding people. But the good news is with this rain coming down now, I know this is really hard to think about, unless you are buried in rubble.

That rain will be used by those survivors still under the rubble to drink as water and not become dehydrated. When it rains in a disaster, the extension of the life expectancy can go from two to four and five days because of that water. It's rain water to you and me, but a life saving drink of water to people trapped in rubble.

SPITZER: Fascinating stuff, Chad. Look, I know one of the issues is how much warning people get. Tell us once again looking at the maps. You know where these things are going to strike, where should people be paying attention keeping their ears out for a tornado warning to make sure they don't get caught flat footed.

MYERS: It appears to me like Central Ohio is under the gun tonight and also into Oklahoma tomorrow, but I'm going to move you ahead to tomorrow because tonight is a small tornado day. There will be small tornadoes on the ground.

Tomorrow there could be 200-mile-per-hour tornadoes like the Joplin storm. That would be Kansas City, Wichita, Springfield, again Joplin right there. And then Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Dallas, all along the Red River and then stretching itself out to Nashville and Louisville, everywhere you see orange there's a chance of something happening.

Where there's red, there's a likelihood of tornadoes on the ground tomorrow night. For right now, as it's cooling down and we get into cooler part of the night, the storms will calm down. The ones we're seeing now will calm down in the next couple hours. The ones tomorrow may go all night long.

SPITZER: All right. Thanks for that warning. I just hate to even hear the name Joplin there on the list of cities that may be struck once again. All right, not good news. Thank you so much for that report.

Now we return to Joplin where I'm joined by our headliner the governor of Missouri, Jay Nixon. Governor, first and foremost, thank you for joining us in this absolutely horrific moment in terms of your entire state. What is the focus of your activity today?

GOVERNOR JAY NIXON (D), MISSOURI: Our focus of our activity today is to make sure that we get over every foot of ground here to see if anyone is living. We've had seven folks that we have rescued today. We believe there are other live folks out there.

We have firefighters. We have paramedics. We have first responders from throughout the region helping us even though there's lightning, thunder and rain out here. We have to make one more solid sweep. We think there are live folks out there. SPITZER: Yes, we can hear in the backdrop the rain continues to come down and torrentially at some point in time, what are assets you are using?

You have dogs out there. You have National Guard, what are you doing to make sure you can possibly find anybody who might be alive in the rubble that's been left behind by this tornado?

NIXON: We have hundreds of National Guard called up including MPs to make sure the property is protected. We have 110 highway patrol troopers to help us man the law enforcement side of this.

We have 1,000 first responders from throughout the state including Task Force One out of Columbia that was at 9/11 including Kansas City Fire Department that brought heavy equipment here.

All of that is using with other firefighters and other first responders to literally have to with dogs and machines walk across every square foot of this ground.

SPITZER: Have you been able to get shelter and basic necessities for those that survived this horror?

NIXON: Last night, we opened up a shelter. It just so happen that shelter has to be replaced where 24 hours before I gave a graduation speech to go into a building in which you had 3,000 happy people and walk back in there 24 hours later as a shelter now for huge devastation and many deaths we had here is a very, very difficult situation. But one I think the community is coming together to be strong under this incredibly difficult situation.

SPITZER: And how about at the hospital? You talk about harsh when a tornado like this actually hits the hospital where the wounded would otherwise go.

What's happened at the hospital? Have you managed to get people repositioned into other hospitals so they are being taken care of right now?

NIXON: There's one other hospital in town it's completely full. We're moving folks to Springfield. We're having emergency rooms set up and a couple of other triage centers set up for people that are wounded.

I think we've got that under control here about 24 hours into this. But it is traumatic where a place people go for safety and to be cured is a place that has to be cured and now it's going to be basically have to be scrapped.

SPITZER: And what are the continuing risks? Are there gas leaks? Are there power lines down? What are the things in terms of structural damage that will continue to pose a risk even after you have done if you say that last complete search to make sure there's nobody wounded out there who you can still help?

NIXON: The gas leaks and fires this morning, most of those have been cut off. Luckily the water pressure has been high. We still continue to rest and up the power. We had 17 cell towers knocked over. It's very difficult to communicate in here right now.

We have emergency management network, but it's hard to get cell coverage for anybody. We're asking people to be calm. We'll have hundreds at the shelter tonight. Also as we make sure even in another night of storms that our folks are safe.

SPITZER: And how long will it take you think until they can set up some cell service? So many people these days only have cell phones. How long will it be until you get cell towers, these temporary cell towers back up so that you can have communications throughout the region? Obviously not just the region that was hardest hit, but the entire region, as you say 17 cell towers down.

NIXON: Yes, we hope within the next few days we can get temporary service back here. There is some service from outside of the area now. I should know we have law enforcement network up. We had the ability to communicate during the entirety of this time there.

But it's just one in which I think a number of people around the country who have relatives here are concerned about what's going on. We have shelters opened up. We're taking care of folks. We're making that final sweep. Unfortunately there have been many, many deaths.

SPITZER: Did the early warning system work as it should have? A lot of people were say this tornado sort of came out of nowhere. It formed in a very quick fashion. Did early warning system do all it could have done to save as many lives as possible?

NIXON: Seventeen minutes before the tornado hit was the time the sirens initially went off. The tornado then just formed around here. It was a very devastating tornado. It didn't move along the ground very fast.

It stayed here almost screwed into the earth and that's why it was so devastating. It almost -- this was almost a center of where that storm started. So the warning system while the down pressure called alarms to go off, there was so much rain, so much wind and so much hail that many folks couldn't hear it.

SPITZER: All right and finally, what was the economic engine of this town, this city? Will it be there and will it come back? What does it look like a year or two years from now?

NIXON: Well, I can guarantee you Joplin will come back. We in Missouri, we're at our best when things are tough. We'll fight hard to get this place rebuilt. This hospital and other hospital here are regional hospitals that are a big centerpiece.

A university here that does very well and also manufacturing in this part of our state as you move farther east significant agriculture. Bottom line is these are strong people. We'll work together to rebuild this city.

SPITZER: All right, Governor. Thanks so much for taking time out to be with us. God's speed.

Now we move across the world. There's breaking news out of it Libya. Heavy air strikes pounding Moammar Gadhafi's compound in Tripoli.

CNN crews on the ground there reporting seeing smoke and hearing blasts in quick succession. A reporter, Nima Elbagir is live in Tripoli right now. Nima, give us the latest.

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is definitely the most intensive strike we've had here in Tripoli, Eliot. Within half an hour, we had over 12 explosions in quick succession.

The Libyan government is telling us that they believe it was the auxiliary center very close to the Gadhafi compound that's being hit. We're still hearing jets overhead, anti-aircraft fire.

It is not actually clear whether this strike is yet over, but the casualty toll so far, Eliot, is three killed and 150 injured.

SPITZER: Those are certainly significant numbers. Any word from NATO about what the intended target might have been and can you in fact validate or verify what the Gadhafi regime is telling you about where these strikes have occurred?

ELBAGIR: Well, we are very close. Our hotel is very close to the Gadhafi compound. We very much felt those strikes. We heard them. We can see the black, thick smoke coming out from very close to the compound.

So it does -- it would actually make sense it's either the compound or somewhere right close to it that's been hit. We have not yet heard from NATO because as I was telling you, it feels like the strike is ongoing. They have offered to take journalists out to verify, but as you can appreciate it doesn't yet feel safe to go out there on our own.

This, of course, comes just hours after the U.S. envoy was in Benghazi, was in the east and sent that message to Gadhafi that unless he goes that strikes will not end. So it does feel like NATO is trying to ensure that that message is heard here in Tripoli loud and clear, Eliot.

SPITZER: Nima, any sense of where Moammar Gadhafi is these days? Obviously knowing he's potentially a target. He is not going out in the streets the way he used to, but is there any sense, any word or any chatter out there that gives you a hint of where he might be hiding?

ELBAGIR: Well, even his administration admits that he's very much on the move. That he has gone underground. They say that there's no shame in admitting this because they believe that NATO is trying to assassinate him.

But they also say that he is very much in control of it. He is in charge of the security arrangements in terms of dealing with NATO air strikes and the sanctions. That's what we're being told. I t is obvious that there's a lot of paranoid not just for Gadhafi, but also amongst his sons and amongst his immediate family.

We do keep hearing rumors that his wife and his daughter have left the country and that various sons have defected, but the government has been careful to try to respond. The last time they responded with an audio broadcast on state TV because they're aware as they say this is as much a propaganda battle as anything else.

So they're trying to ensure that at least his people if nothing else can hear his voice, but very much concerned they say for his safety, Eliot.

SPITZER: All right. Nima, thanks for that report. You are so right. There are reports that members of his family have gone to Tunisia. We'll be checking back in with you later on.

Coming up, amid all the tragedy, a story of survival and some very bad luck. A couple who fled Katrina to what they thought was safety in Joplin, Missouri.

But first, E.D. Hill is here. E.D., you are talking to FEMA folks on the ground there in Joplin?

E.D. HILL, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, it is fortunate that they just held an emergency drill last week, but did it work when it was put into practice? As the rescue operations continue, what can the government do to help survivors there? Eliot, we'll look at that.

SPITZER: All right. Thanks, E.D. A lot more when we come back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SPITZER: Rough weather in Joplin again tonight. It's hampering rescue efforts. CNN's Casey Wian is standing by live now in Joplin.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Eliot, I don't know if you could see it behind me, but the rain is really starting to come down here again and this is the kind of weather that's been hampering the rescue efforts all day long.

There have been storms moving through here with winds as high as 60 miles an hour. Hail, quarter size. Of course, nothing compared to the kind of weather they encountered a little more than 24 hours ago. That devastating tornado that went through this town killing 116 people and we're expecting that number to go higher.

Earlier today, we joined one of the search and rescue teams that's fanned out throughout this area and came across a very heartbreaking story. They were being deployed to a home depot here that was basically flattened and as they were getting ready to enter that structure, a young woman came up to us, 17-year-old young woman, believed that her uncle and father were still inside that building.

We don't know what happened to those two men if they've been recovered yet. What we do know is that one person was rescued from that structure alive. Three fatalities were the result of that home depot being basically flattened.

We also saw incredible stories of people helping each other. Not official search and rescue teams, but just neighbors digging through piles of rubble trying to help people get out and trying to determine if there were people trapped in these flattened homes.

It's like something no one here has ever seen before even the veteran search and rescue teams and even the people who lived in this area all their lives where they are accustomed to tornadoes. All of them say it's like nothing they have ever seen before, Eliot.

SPITZER: You know, Casey, it's heart wrenching to see this footage and then on top of that, you have the unbelievable storm and the weather that you are dealing with right now.

Is it possible to be outside to even continue the search and rescue operations? Can the National Guard and other first responders continue to do what they want to do? Clearly it's getting dark there as well. Does the weather itself provide a huge impediment to their continued efforts?

WIAN: The rescue efforts are able go on in fits and starts. There had been times where authorities have had to say you have to stop because the weather is so bad. Now we are expecting more storms to move in here tomorrow. So this looks like a situation that's not going to be any easier for these rescuers any time soon, Eliot.

SPITZER: You know, my recollection is that the numbers we've been hearing late through the day is that seven individuals, seven families rescued from under the rubble.

Is that number increasing and is there hope and any reason to believe that number will increase, anymore good stories coming out of this?

WIAN: We have not heard that number has increased, but officials here remain hopeful. Of course, in all situations like this, the longer time goes by, the harder it is to pull people out of these structures.

But rescuers are confident that if anyone is still alive in any of these collapsed homes or structures, they will be able to get them out hopefully by tomorrow.

SPITZER: All right. Thank you, Casey. Now for more on rescue efforts, let's go to Joplin City Manager Mark Rohr who is live on the phone.

Sir, we've seen the horrific weather conditions there. What is going on right now? Who do you still have out there in the field searching and do you have resources you need?

MARK ROHR, CITY MANAGER, JOPLIN (via telephone): Yes, we had 400 to 500 volunteers, fire personnel, and Public Works Department personnel that showed up early this morning and as soon as the early storm lifted, we deployed them.

During the course of the day, we've been able to rescue some 17 citizens and we continue our efforts as you said in your report we're working through the weather and doing the best we can. We have had two rescuers be struck by lightning during the course of the day.

And we obviously don't want that to occur and we're taking that into account. So we're doing the best we can with limitations we're presented with by the weather.

SPITZER: Obviously you keep doing everything you can within the realm of what is safe. Are there they any ongoing risks or any gas leaks or any electric wires down?

How do you deal with what is visible to our viewers, absolute utter and complete devastation? Are there continued risks you have to be very careful of?

ROHR: Yes, we have gas leaks all over the city. When we drive around viewing the progress of the rescue attempt, we can smell the gas. There are wires down everywhere. You just got to be careful as you navigate through the city to avoid those hazards and we encourage rescuers to do the same so we do not impart harm to those people trying to rescue our citizens.

SPITZER: And as of now, do you have enough shelter and enough support coming in from FEMA and from the National Guard actually to provide food, water, shelter for the so many thousands of displaced people?

ROHR: Yes. We have volunteers from throughout the area and throughout the state and other states and FEMA has been here, the assistant director for FEMA has been here. He's been great.

The governor was here today offering state assistance and we are very appreciative of all of the assistance we've gotten. They are greatly helping and assisting in our rescue efforts.

SPITZER: All right. Mark Rohr, thank you for all your doing out there and the perseverance of everybody in Joplin. Keep it up, sir.

A nuclear disaster. That's what our next guest says St. John's Regional Medical Center looked like after a tornado tore through Joplin last night.

The storm demolished the hospital just when it was need the most. Several were killed in the building as the storm blew out nearly every window and scattered x-rays and medical records across two counties.

Dr. Jim Riscoe helped treat and evacuate patients last night. He's now the site commander at the Triage Center Memorial Hall in Joplin. Dr. Riscoe, thanks for joining me.

DR. JIM RISCOE, PHYSICIAN AT ST. JOHN'S MEDICAL CENTER: You're welcome. Thanks for having us. SPITZER: Well, look, you are doing amazing work out there so we just thank you for that. You've been in these disasters before. How does this compare to what you've seen in the past?

RISCOE: Well, one of the original responders at the Hyatt disaster in 1981, which absolutely pales in comparison to the devastation and width of the path of destruction compared to the Hyatt Regency disaster back in 1981, but the same kind of incredible response of the medical community in Kansas City and Joplin.

I just can't begin to tell you. We had people coming from several hundred miles away that just literally grabbed their scrubs and their stethoscope and anything they could get and threw it in the car and came.

Within a matter of hours we had more help than we could put to use. I live about a mile south from the hospital and the tornado or sound came roaring down our street. I didn't know what it was. I assumed it was a tornado. Go ahead. I'm sorry.

SPITZER: You continue, sir. We're listening to your description. This is what we need to hear about.

RISCOE: Just a few minutes after the sound passed our house, which is just a mile south of the hospital, I got a text from Dr. Sean Smith who's our president of our medical group and one of my partners and he told us that the hospital was on fire and emergency room was gone.

So I hopped in my car and headed up. All of the roads were blocked. I was able to drive over some power lines and some trees and some curbs and got to the emergency room. All of our staff had evacuated the patients and told me that we were going to try to assemble at an alternate site at Memorial Hall.

So I went up there and started getting that organized. Staffs started drifting in and the patients that had been diverted from our hospital across the street started arriving. So for first several hours we had several priority one and priority two patients, which we were able to stabilize and ship to hospitals in the area within about a 60-mile radius of Joplin.

So by about 10:00 we had taken care of the first wave of casualties. Most of which were crush injuries and penetrating injuries. Then through the night we basically took care of people that were extricated from their homes.

SPITZER: You know, Doctor, it must be especially emotionally devastating to see the hospital itself where people go for the care that you provide and such a tough job under ordinary circumstances, but to see the hospital destroyed and a victim of this massive tornado to be emotionally gut wrenching to see that happen. You've also been, am I correct, down to Haiti in the midst of their disaster. How does this compare to that?

RISCOE: It's a totally different thing. The Haitian disaster was vertical. This was horizontal. You know, of course, tremendous amount of death in Haiti. Here it's localized over a path of residential homes and businesses and of course, no disaster plan ever survives a disaster that attacks the hospital that you plan to be the base of safety for patients.

Never in my life did I ever anticipate our hospital being literally devastated and gone non-functional. We've essentially re- established our emergency room at Memorial Hall and we're up and running and ready to receive patients and we're trying to take the load off our hospital across the street. From an emotional point of view I --

SPITZER: Continue. I was just going to say do you in fact --

RISCOE: From an emotional point of view --

SPITZER: Yes, sir. Continue on.

RISCOE: From an emotional point of view, I don't think anybody prepares you to see your hospital and fire and top floors of the hospital gone and emergency room gutted shell. I was able to ascertain that all of my staff and friends were good.

And they shortly followed me up to the Memorial Hall or the auditorium where within a short time we were able to re-establish a triage area and a patient area. I sent my son and my partner down the street to the catholic high school where we established the secondary treatment area and homeless shelter taking the load off us in terms of patients.

I guess as people responded to Memorial Hall, there were a lot of hugs and reassurances and we were just glad to see everybody there and everybody that had made it because we count on that team. We work together so closely that to lose the continuity of that team would have been devastating to us.

SPITZER: All right, Dr. Riscoe, it just obviously is a very difficult emotional moment for you. We just can't thank you enough. Last question, do you in fact have a plan to evacuate the hospital itself? This is what you had to do. Did you have to just improvise at that moment?

RISCOE: Yes.

SPITZER: Or are there procedures that you practiced?

RISCOE: Yes. We have something called a condition grade. Whenever there's bad weather in the area, we move the patients from the windows and close the doors and then we prepare and then there's an overhead call that says execute condition gray and that means any patient that we can, we get into a safe area. So within a matter of 20 to 30 minutes, all of the acute care patients of which we have about 200 plus were evacuated out of the hospital. The emergency room patients were evacuated across the street. But I have to tell you that our hospital is Ground Zero for the tornado and everything around it and access to it was destroyed. SPITZER: All right. Doctor, thank you so much. Not just for taking the time but for all you have done in this emotionally trying time and all the great works you have done. Thank you so much.

RISCOE: Well, thank you.

SPITZER: Up next, E.D. Hill talks to FEMA's man on the scene in Joplin. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

E.D. HILL, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: All eyes on Joplin, Missouri, tonight. Brave rescuers continue searching through an incomprehensible disaster scene. In situations like this, often the difference is determined by the experience of the people in charge.

Richard Serino started 35 years ago as an EMS paramedic in Boston. Since then he rose to chief of the Department then a member of the Defense Department's domestic preparedness program and a consultant to the Pentagon. He is now the deputy director of FEMA. And I appreciate you joining us.

RICHARD SERINO, FEMA DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR: Glad I could join you tonight as well.

HILL: The city manager, Mark Rohr, just said you have been great. I know that you just went through a practice, a drill for this just about a week ago. How has it worked when you put it into actual practice?

SERINO: What we were able to do is a lot of it was having the relationships and FEMA is really just part of the team. We're here to support, the governor support, the local, the city manager. I spent a lot of time with Mark (ph) earlier today and also the fire chief and really going around the area touring the area. And what we hear is really, as I say, the support of the governor but it's really part of the team. It's really looking at the city, the state, as well as the federal community.

The president sent me down here early this morning to make sure that the entire federal family is going to be here to support Joplin. But we also are working with the faith-based community as well as the private sector but what's been striking is the neighbors helping neighbors here today.

HILL: Well, it's a great part of the country. You see that often not just in times like these. I know that -- you know, one of the things we've seen FEMA do in past emergency disasters like this is come in with the housing, temporary housing, the trailers, things like that. Have you already made plans for those and how many people can you help accommodate?

SERINO: Right now, the primary focus is the search and rescue that we're going through here. The search and rescue is the primary focus for the first few days. They had a great opportunity, urban search and rescue teams where they saved a number of people today. They're still going home by home. I was with one of them earlier. It's the torrential rain, the hail, the heavy wind is there. Pulling people out, that's really the priority right now. As we move further on, we're going to be here for the long haul. We're going to be worrying about, you know, debris removal and housing but right now we're putting our focus on the search and rescue and taking care of the needs of the survivors here and helping the families of the victims as well.

HILL: Well, let me tap into your vast experience specifically in that in helping people at the crisis scenes through your work as a paramedic with EMS. When you're in a situation like this, do you go to the heart of the problem and then sort of work your way out or do you start on the outskirts hoping that there may be more people alive there and work your way in?

SERINO: What they're doing now is actually the fire chief and the city manager along with the urban search and rescue teams and the mutual aid departments for EMS, fire and police, have come in. They've sectioned the city off into grids. They're doing an unbelievable job at the local level. They're bringing in reinforcements because they've been going for 24 hours nonstop. And we're going to be here to support them in the long-term. But right now, it's the work that the first responders are doing truly heroic work that they have been doing.

HILL: And you know that very well. What is the most difficult thing about the rescues right now other than finding people? Is it because -- I can see in the background there you've still got horrible weather, a lot of rain. The people who are being found certainly have to be cold, wet and almost in a state of shock.

SERINO: Right. And a lot of the survivors that we've come across both the people who have minor injuries and the people that they're pulling out, some have had just minor injuries. I was talking to the search and rescue crew that actually pulled nine of the elderly people out of a nursing home and they said that they just had some minor injuries. They were a little bit confused, a little bit of a state of shock but just minor injuries. And again, it was the great work that people were doing on the ground and then looking at neighbors really that were helping neighbors pull people out of the rubble in their adjacent areas. But right now, just looking at the faces and into the eyes of the survivors, the first responders, and they're just going to keep working as hard as they can. They've been doing really unbelievable work.

HILL: It has to be very rewarding. I know that your focus from the federal perspective is to sort of help the state and local government and authorities get this under control. But FEMA does have an 800 line so I'm supposing that you would like people if they need help in the two counties that have been declared disaster sites already to contact you and I think we've got that number. Tell me if it's correct. 800-621-FEMA. Is that correct?

SERINO: That's correct. We want people especially the survivors in the impacted area to call 1-800-621-FEMA. They can also if they get online, www.disasterassistance.gov. Or if they have a mobile phone, they can go to m.fema.gov. Any of those three ways they can register for help. Once they register for help, then we're going to be able to start to get help to them as soon as possible. But right now, we're still focusing on the search and rescue.

HILL: You know, Eliot was talking to a remarkable man earlier in the program who talked about how he was staying in his house because he has a cat and he didn't -- you know, you can't take the cat to the shelter where he was supposed to go. And he just stayed there until they actually forced him to leave. I understand that places like Facebook have sites set up as well to help people reunite with lost pets but has the federal government been able to help in that regard as well?

SERINO: Again, it's a state and a city and we're going to be there to support the needs that they have. If they have needs that can't meet, we're going to be there to support them. We have commodities in the area if they need them, extra water, extra cots, extra blankets if they need those. We have generators as well. But right now, they're managing that. And when they -- whatever they need, we're going to be there to help them. We'll have the entire federal family that's on standby.

HILL: A tribute to how well you've done is at this point say they have everything they need from the federal government. So, good work.

Richard Serino, thank you so much for what you and all the folks down there are doing.

SERINO: Thank you.

HILL: We will have more on the tornado later. But up next, the U.S. and Israel are friends. Well, Eliot asks if that makes it easier or perhaps harder to disagree. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SPITZER: President Obama has made a lot of people angry with the use of a single phrase pre-1967 borders. He brought it up in his speech to the Arab world last Thursday, then again when he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It's a heated debate playing out among American Jews. On one side is AIPAC, the traditional voice for unconditional support of Israel. On the other side, J Street, a pro-Israel group not afraid to criticize the Jewish homeland.

My guests tonight represent the two sides of this debate. Steven Rosen is the former director of policy for AIPAC. Jeremy Ben-Ami is president of J Street.

Steven, let's start with you. Did the prime minister ignore much of what the president said, President Obama said that was good for Israel? And was he getting upset with the phrasing that actually articulated what U.S. policy has been for a number of years? Quickly give me your view on that. STEVEN J. ROSEN, FORMER DIRECTOR OF POLICY, AIPAC: Netanyahu thank the president for many of the positive elements in the speech. So I don't think really there's any question about that. But the president anticipated Israeli unhappiness. In fact, his advisers were divided. You had the secretary of state on one side and you had the national security adviser, Tom Donilon, on the other side exactly because --

SPITZER: OK. But that's not responsive to the question. The question was not whether anybody was upset. The question was, was this a new statement of U.S. policy or a re-articulation of what has been the essence of U.S. policy for a number of years? And were the other things in the speech critically important for Israel? Before I get to Jeremy, Steven, give me that real quick.

ROSEN: It was new. They knew it was new. That's why they debated it so heavily in advance.

SPITZER: Jeremy, was this new?

JEREMY BEN-AMI, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF J STREET: Slightly new. The basis of peace talks for three presidencies now has been the 1967 borders and the adjustments that need to be made to it so in that sense really nothing new. The president is saying it himself. That was new.

SPITZER: But the core of this. And look, just so it's clear, I listened to the speech. I said -- I heard the president say 1967 borders with agreed upon swaps. And I said that has been what Camp David was based upon. That has been what Prime Ministers Ehud Olmert and Barak relied upon when they were negotiating with the Arabs. So Steven, tell me, isn't that, hasn't that been the essence regardless of who said it, hasn't that been the core of the policy for years?

ROSEN: I think you're leaving aside that it was the Palestinians who wanted the president to say this and the Israelis who in advance asked him not to. The advisers knew this was going to be a problem with Israel. Some of them said let's not do this. Others said let's do it for this reason. Because it had to do with pressure on Israel, it had to do with not the legal details because they weren't negotiating the border. It had to do with to what degree should American policy be based on pressure on Israel and to what degree should it be based on working with Israel.

SPITZER: Let me try this once again. Was this statement of what the policy was going to be? '67 borders with agreed upon swaps. Was that not both a factual and philosophical level precisely what had been at the essence of Camp David and every prime minister of Israel's position for the past several years?

ROSEN: Declaring --

SPITZER: Who says it?

ROSEN: Declaring it as the American objective was a new policy. That's why it took them weeks to come to it. SPITZER: You keep coming back to it. Jeremy, does it matter who says it?

BEN-AMI: It does matter but the essence of what you're asking is yes, this is where we've been. Anybody who's been serious about making peace whether it's been an Israeli prime minister or an American president or head of the Palestinian Authority knows we're starting with the '67 lines and making adjustments. So there's no real change in the policy but the president saying it, that is new.

SPITZER: OK. I want to focus on two other things that were in the speech. One, the president saying that Israel has no obligation to negotiate with Hamas, an organization that is avowedly a terrorist organization. Does that not grant Israel the absolute right to say we will no longer negotiate? So wasn't that an enormous opportunity for Israel to say ah ha, we've now done what we need to do until Hamas changes we're off the hook?

Steven, wasn't this --

ROSEN: First of all, Israel is not looking for an opportunity not to negotiate.

SPITZER: But in terms of the president --

ROSEN: Israel is looking for a way to negotiate. And secondly, that was a well established American policy for months before. There was no debate about it. There was no division about it, no controversy. But it isn't what the issue was at this hour. That's why no one in the world was so focused on it. They're all focused on the '67 border statement because contrary to what you've just said, it was new.

SPITZER: Jeremy?

BEN-AMI: Well, I think what you're pointing out is exactly right. There were incredible concessions or gives to Israel in the president's speech. The Hamas thing was one. The U.N. vote, you know, making it very clear that Palestinian should not look to the U.N. for a Palestinian state. Those were both incredible gives, but the important thing is the president made it clear this is critical for Israel. If they're going to survive a Jewish and a democratic nation, they need a two-state solution. And Tzipi Livni said that today to the AIPAC conference as well. Many Israelis recognize this is in Israel's interest. We're not talking about just the negotiations between two countries. It's what's in Israel's best interest.

SPITZER: And again, Steve, let me come back to you. When the president said that a Palestinian state, should there ever be a two- state solution that created one would have to be a non-militarized, was that not also -- now you will say, of course, that has been agreed upon but restating it, making that part of the complex --

ROSEN: A very positive thing and I could give you 25 more. Because there were many positive things in this speech, but none of them were new. What was new is what you are saying was not new. The president knew it was new. Tom Donilon knew it was new. Hillary Clinton knew it was new and Bibi Netanyahu knew it was new. And so did the Palestinians know it was new. So you're really missing the heart of it.

SPITZER: OK. Jeremy, last word before I take it?

BEN-AMI: Well, we're not going to have peace if we don't recognize we're going to start with the '67 borders. And peace is not only in the American national interest, it's in the Israeli interest. And that's what the president is trying to advance and I commend him for the speech that he gave.

SPITZER: Jeremy, Steven, will all due deference, here is my perspective on this. For the president to have said out loud what every secretary of state would, every prime minister would, every negotiation for a decade, what everybody in the public who cares about this has known to be the case, that is not new when it is certainly not worth the prime minister picking a very public dispute with the president when the president has gone out of his way to make so many important statements about other elements of the policy. That is why I think Prime Minister Netanyahu made a mistake about this. It was not new. And therefore, this fight was not worth it.

Anyway, Steven, obviously deep respect for your views on this. Jeremy and Steven, thank you for this insightful conversation.

Coming up, August 2nd, that's when time runs out on the budget debate and we default on our debt. Vice President Biden is trying to broker a deal but is it too little, too late? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SPITZER: Vice President Biden meets with leading Democrats and Republicans in Congress tomorrow hoping to patch together a deal on the budget ceiling. Congressman Chris Van Hollen is the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee and will be meeting with the vice president tomorrow. A short time ago, I spoke with him and asked him if he thinks that a deal might be coming together.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: Well, not yet. And that's why the president and Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, have said listen, don't negotiate out with the debt ceiling. The fact of the matter is it would cause an economic crisis if you default. Secretary of treasury said that's August 2nd. So the clock is ticking.

SPITZER: Look, we know August 2nd is the deadline of the moment. Having said that, the Republicans are not acknowledging the fact that the sky will fall on August 2nd. Are at least the members of the Republican Party or on the Biden group, the Biden commission that is meeting on this, do they acknowledge that August 2nd is the real deadline? VAN HOLLEN: Well, I don't think they've taken any official position on this. But you're right, there's this sort of hair brain scheme out there on the Republican side that says, OK, we'll pay China, we'll pay our foreign creditors. We're not going to pay our troops. We're not going to pay social security. That would in addition to being just totally misplaced priorities, it would also send a terrible message to the credit markets.

SPITZER: The capital markets most people seem to think would go haywire if that happens. But are the people inside the room and I know you can't get too detailed here, are they saying, look, we know their folks take that position. We acknowledge August 2nd is a real deadline and we've got to meet it.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I think the Republican leadership writ large understands that but the fact of the matter is in the House you still have a lot of these Tea Party Republicans and the tail is wagging the dog still. And so, that's what people need to understand. The Republican leadership may get it and say so publicly. But the reality is they don't control the show entirely.

SPITZER: If this is going to be a negotiated agreement where you have to concede some degree of cuts to get the Republican votes in the House to increase the debt ceiling, are you going to hold firm and say part of that must be a revenue increase?

VAN HOLLEN: Yes. Any balanced approach requires revenues.

Here's the craziness of it all. The Republicans are saying we're going to send the economy into default, a nose dive unless we get deficit reduction our way. In other words, you know, threatening to tank the economy unless they get it done their way. And that's, we've said, listen, we understand we have to do deficit reduction better now than later but you have to do it in a balanced way.

SPITZER: Is there any sign yet the Republicans will agree to a revenue increase?

VAN HOLLEN: There's no sign. I mean, the public position the Republicans have taken is what it is. On the other hand, the president and the vice president have made very clear in their public remarks you can't continue to allow big taxpayer subsidies to go to the big oil companies when you're asking other parts of the country to take a hit. It's just unfair. And so, I think the White House has been pretty clear on this and we hope they'll stand firm.

SPITZER: But here's the question. Then we will hit a roadblock and there may be cataclysm unless the Republicans agree to increase revenues.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, there's no doubt again that a balanced approach requires revenues and the Republicans are going to have to deal with that fact. Now, that doesn't mean you're going to get big change in revenues but let's begin, for example, with the subsidies for the big oil companies. I mean, if they can't do that, then we're in trouble. SPITZER: Let's ask a couple questions about which tax loopholes you would close if in fact we can agree that is how we can get agreement on, some revenue increase and also then cut some expenditures as well. Mortgage home deduction. Deduction for mortgage home expenditures that taxes people would otherwise have to pay on the interest on their mortgages. Do you think we can eliminate that one?

VAN HOLLEN: No, I don't think we can eliminate it. Certainly not overnight. The president has a proposal in his budget to limit the deduction for very high end income earners. That's something that we should be looking at. But none of these things are things you want to do all at once overnight.

SPITZER: How about charitable deductions? That's another one that is an enormously expensive one in terms of the federal budget. Do you think that is one we can look at?

VAN HOLLEN: I'm not -- look, charitable deduction --there are other things you can do for charitable deductions. For example, you could say you do not get a deduction for the first $100, $500 of contributions you make. That gives an incentive for people actually to contribute more. So there are things you can look at without taking it all away, all at once.

SPITZER: OK. But this is where you think you may be able to reach some agreement with the Republicans if we need, as you said, revenue in addition to cutting costs.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, there are other parts of the tax code.

SPITZER: Where else would you look?

VAN HOLLEN: For example, you can look at just beginning to phase out deductions for very high end income earners. For example, Marty Feldstein, who used to be the adviser of the Republican president, have made some proposals along these lines. Also on the corporate side, in addition to subsidies for oil companies, there are incentives to ship U.S. jobs overseas. So there are other areas we can look at.

SPITZER: Do you think we could raise marginal rates? Do you think that those above $1 million in annual income could in fact and should be paying a higher marginal rate?

VAN HOLLEN: Oh, I definitely do because we need to get our handle on the deficit. We need to bring down the deficit and we need balance.

SPITZER: Let's move over to the expenditure side. Where do you believe we could cut? What is the one program where you would cut the most and where and how?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, the president has already put a number of cuts on the table including things like community development block grants and other proposals like that. My view is we have to take those cuts unless we can identify alternative cuts. SPITZER: Would you cut defense?

VAN HOLLEN: I think we have to do cuts in defense. In fact, the president's proposal again as well as the proposal the Democrats put forward on the House has some very responsible cuts in the defense area. And look, you just have to talk to Admiral Mullen who has said that, you know, the debt crisis is a major security challenge. So everyone has got to contribute. People like Governor Haley Barbour when he was running for president, he says Republicans have no credibility on the deficit if they're not willing to look at defense cuts.

SPITZER: Last question, social security. Can we, should we raise the retirement age over a course of 10, 15 years?

VAN HOLLEN: I don't think we should for this reason.

SPITZER: Right.

VAN HOLLEN: My view is that people who earn their living the way we do, yes, we could easily do that. But the fact is if you're doing backbreaking work --

SPITZER: Right.

VAN HOLLEN: -- that early retirement is going to be a hardship. Now, there are other ways you can do it that allow people to voluntarily retire. Maybe take a little less.

SPITZER: Right.

VAN HOLLEN: But there are other ways to do it rather than saying you've got to retire early. Again, for you and me, not a problem.

SPITZER: Right.

VAN HOLLEN: But for people who are, you know, doing manual labor --

SPITZER: Doing real work.

VAN HOLLEN: Doing real work, that's not easy.

SPITZER: All right. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

VAN HOLLEN: Thank you.

SPITZER: Good seeing you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SPITZER: Our next guest dodged yesterday's tornado and before that Hurricane Katrina. You might think they're on the run from Mother Nature. We now have them with their dog who really has a story to tell. The whole family joins me live now from Joplin. Maggie, Trey, thanks for being here. What's the name of your dog, by the way?

TREY (via telephone): Faith.

MAGGIE (via telephone): Faith.

SPITZER: Faith. All right. I guess an aptly name dog. So tell us first where you were and how did you hear about the tornado? Condition of your house and most importantly, well not most importantly but at least for the purpose of the story, how you found your dog.

MAGGIE: Well, we were both at work. Trey was actually getting out of work at 4:00. And I begged him please, don't leave. I just had bad feelings. And I said we just need to ride this out. We got reports about things hitting (INAUDIBLE) at 7:00 and then we started hearing St. John's and our house is literally across the street. At that point, I was in touch with family and they said they saw St. John's was completely gone. So I asked Trey, please just go home and get safe. That's all I want.

And Trey got close to the house and called me and said that everything was gone. Trey was about five blocks from our house and we were walking and just the further we got, the worse it was. And we finally got to our house and I saw Trey. And the only way I knew it was our house was the bricks that I recognized. We immediately ran to the house to try to see if we could see Faith's kennel, and we couldn't see anything. We were screaming for him and calling for him. And we couldn't hear anything. And so we just kind of walked around in a daze. I mean, it was a complete shock. Everything we own is everywhere.

SPITZER: You know, Maggie, Trey, and, you know, all I can tell you is you are a picture and a story of perseverance. All we can do is say thank you. Keep your chin up.

MAGGIE: Yes.

SPITZER: You have each other. You have your dog. You have your spirit and your sense of faith. So, thank you so much.

MAGGIE: Yes.

SPITZER: And to everybody else there, thank you for joining us IN THE ARENA tonight as we hear great stories like that.

Good night from Washington. "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts right now.