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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Deadly Tornadoes Strike Midwest; Ohio School Shooting Investigation Continues
Aired February 29, 2012 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It is 10:00 here on the East Coast.
We begin with breaking news tonight.
Right now, these are the hours of peak danger for millions of people from Ohio and Pennsylvania to Alabama and parts of Georgia. Tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings now up across the area, all part of a massive, punishing and deadly storm system that did this to the Southern Illinois town of Harrisburg, hammered Branson, Missouri, as well, leveled parts of Kansas, Kentucky, Tennessee as well.
It all began just before dawn. Now, here's the terrifying sound that awakened one family in Frankfort, Kentucky. Frankfort was spared, but so many other places were not. People lost their lives in rural Tennessee, Missouri, and Harrisburg, Illinois, which suffered the greatest lost. Survivors there across the area describing what they saw and what they felt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's very devastating. We are lucky compared to people out that way, very lucky.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Overwhelmed, just overwhelmed with emotions. I had no idea it was this bad.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The lights went out. He came out of his bedroom and all of a sudden there was a freight train. The whole house was shaking. I said, oh, my God, it's a tornado. And Dalton grabbed me and pulled me in the pantry.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The windows were starting to blow out and I knew the pantry was the closest place with no windows.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That's a smart kid. Harrisburg is under a curfew right now. The tornado that struck there measuring near the top of the scale, 170 mile-an-hour winds, upwards of 100 people hurt, up to 300 homes destroyed and a shopping center obliterated.
The storm that did it measured two football fields across and stayed on the ground for miles, literally tore the side off the local hospital. You seen that picture of the beds next to the place where the windows used to be? Could have been a lot worse.
Hospital staff luckily had enough time and enough warning time to get patients to safety to move them inside the building. And as horrific as the damage is and as heart-wrenching the loss of life, we're also learning as we did in Joplin, Missouri, last year, the people of Harrisburg are made of stronger stuff than just timber, bricks, and mortar.
We will talk to the mayor shortly.
COOPER: This afternoon, Harrisburg Mayor Eric Gregg described the feeling he had when the tornado warning went out. He said he felt in his gut that something horrible would happen. It has, it certainly has, and he's having the worst day any mayor can possibly have, especially in a town where chances are everyone tonight knows someone who either died in the storm or whose house has been badly damaged in the storm or whose life is going to be changed one way or another from what happened when that storm touched down today.
It's why we're so grateful he could spare us a few moments to talk tonight.
Mayor, just the scope of this, do you have your arms around it? Can you give us a sense of the damage that you have been seeing?
ERIC GREGG, MAYOR OF HARRISBURG, ILLINOIS: Anderson, it's absolutely been a horrific day here in Harrisburg, Illinois.
We have lost six lives. We're a very tight-knit community. People care about each other. And to lose six lives and have many, many hurt and, of course, millions of dollars in devastation is just heartbreaking for a community. And it's heartbreaking.
We have seen this in Joplin, Missouri, last year, and in fact many of our people went to Joplin to help out. My daughter was one of them, and now here today, we're faced with this here in our community and our area. It's just been a very tough day for us and our hearts are going out, our hearts are broken in fact for those who lost their lives and their families and those that are injured.
But I will assure you this, Anderson. I appreciate what you said. This is a community that is going to rally around itself. We have people who care about each other. This is a region of the country that we care about each other. The outpouring of support from the governor of Illinois, all the way down to neighboring communities has just been profound.
I mean, we have had more people coming in to this community, offering to help us and just in whatever way we need, they're here. So it's very redeeming. It makes me glad to be an American and glad to be a mayor of a small town in Southern Illinois, Anderson.
COOPER: As you said, we saw that in Joplin, we saw that in Nashville after the floods there, people really taking care of one another, bringing out the best in people.
What is the latest on rescue operations?
GREGG: Well, right now, what we're doing is we're certainly making sure we have every man, woman, and child accounted for. We're making sure we're taking care of those who have been displaced, whatever they need.
COOPER: Are there people still missing?
GREGG: Whatever they need, we're taking care of them.
No, there's not. I think we have everyone accounted for. We're very thankful for that. Right now, we're just still working through the debris, just checking and just doing our due diligence to take care of the people of Harrisburg, Illinois.
COOPER: I heard you say, Mr. Mayor, that when the sirens were going off this morning, it was kind of eerily quiet.
GREGG: When the sirens started going off, I immediately got up, got my wife and my two sons up. We went out to -- actually, I don't have a basement in my home. We went to our neighbor's house.
We live up on a hill, and I actually stood out with my son and kind of tried to assess where the problem was at within the city. You know, and it became eerily quiet. Just -- and the sirens going off, and then you could just hear the horrible sound, and you're thinking, this is just unbelievable, you know, happening in our community. This is the worst disaster to ever hit Harrisburg, Illinois, with the loss of life and just the damages.
But, immediately, I will tell you this, Anderson, we went into action. This is a community that does not run away from problems, from horrific events like this. We run to help our neighbors and the people we love and care about. That's the way the entire region has been today, and the entire state of Illinois has been and the Midwest.
We have people coming from everywhere. We have just basically put together an army of support to come in here and help us today. We're very grateful, and as a mayor, I can tell you, I feel very blessed today to have the support that I do in Harrisburg, Illinois.
But the loss of life is heartbreaking, and my heart is broken for the families that now are dealing with this tragedy, and of course, all of the ones that are hurt. We can rebuild and we will rebuild, Anderson. We're going to put the town back. We're a community that we may get knocked down seven times, but we're going to get up eight times.
COOPER: Mr. Mayor, just finally, I want to ask you, the store behind you, we see the sign that says sports on it. It looks like that's kind of laying on the ground. Was that was that a second store -- how tall was that store? GREGG: That was a large store. And, I mean, there's a couple things, Anderson.
The time that this event took place, when this tornado came through, it was an F-4, they have determined, 170-mile-per-hour sustainable winds. But when the storm came through, today, we're all connected. We all have our cell phones, we all have ways to communicate. At five minutes until 5:00 in the morning, we don't have our cell phones on, we're not watching television, we don't have the radio on, so our communication system was knocked down.
But the sirens did went off, and it went off in time. I actually talked to eyewitnesses who were able to get loved ones in safe, secure areas. But it came upon us I guess after -- when the sirens went off, it came upon so quick, quickly, that those that we did lose just could not get out of the path.
And again I was on site almost immediately. And it's like nothing I have ever seen, and I pray to God I never have to see it again.
COOPER: Mayor Gregg, I appreciate your time, first of all, and our hearts are with you and with the people of Harrisburg and the surrounding counties tonight. Thank you for being with us.
GREGG: Thank you, Anderson. Good night.
COOPER: Good night. There's more to talk about, about this.
Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook, obviously, Google+. You can add us to your circles. Follow me on Twitter right now @AndersonCooper.
Later on in the program, we have new developments in the Ohio school shooting, more importantly, the stories of three kids who lost their lives. We're going to talk to the mom of one teen boy. Tomorrow, he would have gotten his first paycheck from his first job at a local bowling alley. She wants to bury her little boy with that paycheck in his pocket. We're going to talk to her tonight.
Also throughout the hour, our breaking storm coverage continues. We will talk to a storm chaser who got just a little too close to the storm. We will show you what he saw.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVEN VAUGHT, SURVIVOR: I got up and took two steps off the couch. And then me and the two dogs I have and the trailer started rolling down the hill. And you can see what's left. And after I rolled five times, I can remember everything about it.
I was -- once it hit the ground on the fifth time, everything just -- I saw daylight. And I was sitting up against the stove down there and just leaned up with my back against it like I was sitting in a chair.
I don't know how I'm here. No doubt the good lord just didn't call me, is all I know. It wasn't my time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Steven Vaught of Greenville, Kentucky, he survived the storm that has already taken so many lives and utterly devastated parts of Southern Illinois and the city Harrisburg and is on the move right now. A lot more lives could be in jeopardy. That's our breaking news and that is what Chad Myers is going to be following for us throughout the hour. We will check in with him shortly.
First, let's check in with volunteer firefighter and storm chaser Brandon Culkin.
Brandon, first of all, how are you doing? I see that bandage around your head?
I'm doing all right. I'm banged up and I'm sore, but I'm alive, and that's all that matters.
COOPER: What happened to you?
BRANDON CULKIN, STORM CHASER: I was out chasing a storm.
And I heard that the storm was getting a little too close to the neighboring town so I headed back towards town and the wind and the rain picked up a little bit, and so I pulled off somewhere and next thing I know, my ears popped and all my windows broke out in my vehicle, and the next thing I know, I'm getting tossed and rolled and, I mean, it's just completely a miracle that I'm standing here right now.
COOPER: Did you stay -- remain in the vehicle because we're looking at pictures. I mean, it looks like that vehicle just rolled and rolled and rolled.
CULKIN: It did and I had a gentleman come up to me and make sure I was all right. But after that he went to find help and I climbed myself out of my vehicle and the only way I done that was with the Good Lord's help.
COOPER: Where else are you -- I mean, do you have bandages elsewhere?
CULKIN: Yes, I have a laceration on my left hand, on my lower left leg, and I have cuts and scrapes on my left arm and just places where shards of glass hit me in my face and all over my body.
COOPER: Can you -- I mean, can you describe what it's like to be that close? I mean, you say your ears popped and then --
COOPER: All the windows cracked? Broke out of your car? CULKIN: Yes, it was probably the loudest sound I ever heard. The popping sound, it was like going over a mountain, how your ears pop, but 10 times worse than that, and next thing I know, all the windows shattered in my vehicle and I knew I was getting hit and I was directly in its path and I just kept rolling and rolling.
COOPER: Have you -- have you ever seen anything like this? I mean, not just what happened to you but what's happened to your neighbors and to the town?
CULKIN: No, I have never seen a devastation like this to our community. We've had some floods, but nothing to this devastation and the loss of lives that we've had today.
COOPER: Have you gotten your head checked out?
COOPER: Yes, OK. Because you --
CULKIN: Everything checks out all right. They got me in, checked me out, stitched me up and sent me out the door.
COOPER: All right.
CULKIN: They had bigger priorities to handle and I respect them for that.
COOPER: Yes, understandably. Brandon, I'm glad you're doing OK and I appreciate you coming on to talk about it, and glad you're doing OK, as I said.
There's so many stories emerging tonight, not just of what's been lost but how survivors are coping right now and how they have come to grips with the challenges that lie ahead. Harrisburg Mayor Eric Gregg said it best, these are people who get up when they're knocked down and if they get knocked down seven times, they'll get up eight times.
Tyler Profilet of station KFVS has been on the ground all day talking with people in Harrisburg. He joins us now.
Tyler, what have you been seeing in terms of damage and the recovery effort tonight?
TYLER PROFILET, KFVS REPORTER: Anderson, I have seen a lot of damage. I have rolled up on the scene around 6: 30 this morning so just around daybreak and when I first arrived, the strip mall behind me was the first thing that I saw and then as I started to pull around the parking lot, that's where I saw the area that the locals call Gaskin City.
That's where we've had a lot of the fatalities and a lot of those injuries, as well, and we've been talking a little bit throughout the show and throughout the day how reminiscent this is of Joplin. Obviously not a population center the size of Joplin but when you're talking about devastation and be able to see the homes flattened and seemingly be able to see for miles where there used to be a tree line, there it is very similar.
PROFILET: But in this strip mall here, we talked -- Don was talking about the different stores here. There was an Alltel Wireless store here. I was able to talk to the manager. He said he grew up in Oklahoma, of course, in tornado alley, so something that he's very accustomed to. He says he's never heard anything like this.
He's never seen a tornado leave this much devastation, so to give you an idea of someone who grew up with it, they say it's still one of the worst they have ever seen and for the people that were in Gaskin City, that area including a teenager I talked to today that was able to survive it, he says it's the closest to death he's ever been.
COOPER: You know, Tyler, I don't if we --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I'm praying. I mean, I'm really hoping and praying to God that everything will be cool but I was, I was really thinking for a second that we were going to die. I mean, I was scared. I was -- I really thought my dad and I were going to die and get -- or get thrown from our trailer and die. It was scary. I have never been so close to death in my life. It was scary.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Tyler, you were saying that a number of folks who did die, who lost their lives, six in that area, were kind of all in the same area. Do we know why in that area so many, so many died?
PROFILET: Anderson, this was just the path of the tornado. There was a clear path of destruction.
I know it's nighttime now, but you can see that there was a 200- yard-wide path that this tornado cut through and the margin of error for complete destruction and being safe was so narrow, as a matter of fact, you saw homes that were destroyed and flattened, and literally right across the street, you're talking 35, 40 yards, you had homes that just had the siding ripped off, so the gap between total destruction and being spared was so, so narrow, so some people were very, very fortunate but obviously for six people and hundreds of others that were injured they weren't quite so lucky.
COOPER: Yes, and at this point, you know, what are people telling you in terms of how they moved forward?
PROFILET: Well, it's really impressive and I kind of want to reiterate what the mayor was saying. This is the kind of town that's starting to dig in and dig out of this rubble. I noticed people at 9: 00 this morning that just had damage to their roof and they were already beginning to repair, people were already beginning to repair the siding. They had some heavy equipment, backhoes, bulldozers trying to clear the roadways, trying to dig out of the rubble to see if any of their loved ones that were unaccounted for were still inside.
So the people here are already in the rebuilding mode. You didn't see a lot of people standing around looking. You saw a lot of people actually getting to work and starting to help their neighbor.
COOPER: Yes. And as the mayor said it seems like everybody is accounted for in Harrisburg and that is certainly good news. At this moment a large number of missing, though, that number of wounded. a hundred or so.
Tyler Profilet, appreciate your reporting as always.
If you want to help, you can. To find out more, we've set up a one-stop location with all the details. You can go to CNN.com/impact. You'll find all the organizations and ways you can make a difference there. Again, that's CNN.com/impact.
Just ahead on the program, new details in the Ohio school shooting. Three young lives cut short in the high school cafeteria. Three families destroyed tonight. The mother of one of the victims, a teenage boy named Danny, joins me ahead. What she has to say is heartbreaking, but she wants you to hear about her son. She wants you to hear about the boy that he was and the life that's been lost.
Also ahead, "Raw Politics" tonight. Will Mitt Romney's wins in Michigan and Arizona power him through Super Tuesday? Was the win in Michigan a win in name only? We'll also find out about the Wyoming caucuses tonight, the results.
First, let's check in with Isha Sesay -- Isha.
ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, in Syria, the siege on Homs gets even worse with opposition saying that the Assad regime is flying helicopters overhead firing at citizens on the ground -- that and much more when 360 continues.
COOPER: In a phone call today President Obama expressed his condolences to the principal of Chardon High School in Ohio. That's the school and the community, of course, there, they're all still reeling from the deadly shooting rampage.
"Up Close" tonight we have new details about the 17-year-old suspect. We're going to have that report in a moment, but first the terror that gripped a school during the attack. It's a parent on the 911 recordings that were released.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We just had a shooting at our school. We need to get out of here. Oh, my god.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need help badly.
911 DISPATCHER: OK, we need to know where the shooter is. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. I don't know.
911 DISPATCHER: OK. We got everybody out there outside the building.
911 DISPATCHER: Where is the shooter? Where is the shooter?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Excuse me?
911 DISPATCHER: Where is the shooter?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody, quiet down. He could be -- he could be out there.
911 DISPATCHER: Are you -- do you see the shooter?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I didn't. I just felt like the gun.
911 DISPATCHER: OK. Did you see the gun?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
911 DISPATCHER: OK. Now listen to me, listen to me. Where are you at?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm outside the school right now. We hear there's the siren.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I'm a student. I was right by the shooter when he pulled the gun.
911 DISPATCHER: OK. Who was the shooter?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His name is Thomas Lane. I saw him take out two and then I was, I was gone. I was out of there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Five students were shot. Three of them died.
Danny Parmertor was 16 years old. Daniel was his real name so was Demetrius Hewlin and Russell King Jr. was 17.
All three left home that morning expecting it was going to be just another day at school. Goes without saying their families are shattered. On CBS this morning, Danny's parents described arriving at their hospital where their son had been taken and begging him not to die.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Said don't go, Danny, don't go.
BOB PARMERTOR, SON KILLED IN SCHOOL SHOOTING: Don't. Don't go, Danny. He fought. He just didn't have no brain waves left. DINA PARMERTOR, SON KILLED IN SCHOOL SHOOTING: Think about going to a funeral and picking out a casket. What is that? Picking out a casket for your son, I don't want to do it.
We were supposed to go and pick out colleges and supposed to go visit out of state next month. I'm mad now. I'm mad now. It's just my little boy. He was so little, just 16. He was 16 years old.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Picking out caskets for their children. That is what three families are faced with now. We wish them strength through this incredibly difficult time. I talked earlier to Danny's mom, Dina.
COOPER: Dina, I'm so sorry for your loss. How are you and your family doing?
D. PARMERTOR: I guess like they say you find the strength somewhere, you know. And, of course, our family, Bob's family and mine is just amazing. They're just -- they're just doing everything.
And we're just -- they're just carrying us and just supportive, the city, the state, the nation, which I didn't -- I didn't know that it was that big, I just thought it was us. Just unbelievable how people are so great and supportive.
COOPER: And we're looking at pictures of Danny now. I mean, he looks such an outgoing, exuberant kid. What do you want people to know about him?
D. PARMERTOR: Yes, you know, you said the right words, Anderson. That's -- that is Danny. How could you not like Danny? He was just -- everybody loved him and he is just going to be missed so much and we just love him.
He was so -- I mean, he was like a jokester, and everybody just wanted to be around him if he was around, you know, that kind of kid that they gravitate toward and always that person that everybody likes. That's Danny and my Danny.
COOPER: And I understand Danny had just started a job, his first job.
D. PARMERTOR: Yes. Yes.
He was so excited. And this is at the local bowling alley right here in Chardon. And all he wanted was -- he just -- he loved it, but then he just wanted that first paycheck. And he -- he can't get that check. He just can't get it.
He was -- he just loved it. He only worked there, like, for two weeks, three weeks, and then -- just -- just, my heart is broken. It's just torn apart. And everybody in the family, and I just -- I want -- that's why I wanted to talk to you, too. I want people to know him that, they didn't get to have the joy of knowing him, but hopefully through this they can. Because, you know, he wants to say thank you for the support and we all do, too. That's what we feel is our way to, you know, thank you all for the overwhelming support. It's just unimaginable how great people are.
COOPER: Do you know what he was going to spend the check on?
PARMERTOR: Well, of course, he said he was going to save for a car, but you know, he also wanted to -- he kept saying he wanted to get an iPhone and, you know, or new skis, because he just loved skiing. And of course, not with the first check but anything. You know, kids that -- we joked because me and my husband laughed, because he kept saying, "This is going to be big money, Mom. This is going to be big money." It was so cute.
COOPER: I heard that you may actually bury the check with him.
PARMERTOR: Yes, Anderson, we are. We are going to. We're not cashing it. We want him to have the check. Him with that check, you know, so, yes, we are going...
COOPER: It was a big step for him.
PARMERTOR: Yes, yes, absolutely.
COOPER: Dina, I really don't know what to say to you other than, you know, my heart breaks for you. And I think so many people around the country and around the world are thinking about you and thinking about Danny and your whole family. And it doesn't give you peace, but I hope it gives you some strength.
PARMERTOR: Yes, thank you. It does, it really does. It does. It's helping me. It's helping me to see that that's out there for us. I've taken another step. It's helping me get through one -- they say day by day, how about minute by minute?
COOPER: Breath by breath.
PARMERTOR: Right, right.
COOPER: My mom often said just breathe in and breathe out, and that's how you get through each -- each minute.
PARMERTOR: Yes, uh-huh.
COOPER: Well, Dina, as I said, I wish you strength. And thank you for telling us about Danny a little bit tonight.
PARMERTOR: Thank you for letting people see him. You know, I appreciate that, Anderson, a lot.
(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: One shooting victim remain -- remains hospitalized. Classes are expected to resume at Chardon High School on Friday. Prosecutors said the accused shooter, 17-year-old T.J. Lane, is likely to be tried as an adult.
The details of his troubled home life have been emerging. Tonight we have more to report on that. Here's Martin Savidge.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Late Wednesday afternoon in court proceedings, CNN won access to accused school shooter T.J. Lane's juvenile record. It shows in 2009 he was involved in an assault, putting another boy in a chokehold and punched him in the face. Lane pleaded guilty to the lesser offense of disorderly conduct.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three down in the cafeteria. We need an ambulance, too.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three officers?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three students down. We need an ambulance.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Hold on, let me fix that. Do we know where?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're all in the cafeteria.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where's the shooter?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know.
SAVIDGE: Since Monday's rampage at Chardon High School, this small tight-knit community has been asking one question: why? Authorities say Lane hasn't given them any reason for the attacks.
DAVID JOYCE, PROSECUTOR, GEAUGA COUNTY, OHIO: He chose his victims at random. This is not about bullying. This is not about drugs.
SAVIDGE: On Tuesday when Lane first faced a judge after his alleged killing spree, neither his mother or father were in the courtroom. It was a telling sign.
Documents show T.J. Lane had a troubled home life and that his parents often led by violent example. Police reports obtained by CNN show officers were frequently called to the home to break up domestic fights. Court documents also show T.J.'s father, Tom Lane, suffered from anger management issues and depression, at one point even attempting suicide. He spent time in and out of jail.
A court document from 2002 describes a particularly violent attack by Tom Lane on another woman. It reads, "He strangled his ex- wife by the throat until she lost consciousness for several seconds. Also held victim's head over a washing machine and poured cold water from a utility hose over her nose and mouth, preventing free breathing."
Tom Lane was convicted of felonious assault and sentenced to four years in prison but was released after only nine months.
Such was T.J. Lane's unstable family background. Even prosecutor David Joyce seemed to hint that it could be an argument for the defense.
JOYCE: This is someone who's not well, and I'm sure in our court case we'll prove that to all of your desires. And we'll make sure that justice is done here in this county.
COOPER: Martin, how do people in the community feel about T.J. Lane?
SAVIDGE: You know, that's a very complicated question, Anderson, and I've had that conversation with a lot of people here. It always starts off with people starting to say, "You know what? I feel sorry."
Then they stop themselves immediately because, of course, we know that nothing can condone, nothing goes along with excusing this young man from what he's been accused of doing.
And I think the best way somebody put it to me was they said that they feel sorry for his life, and what they mean by that is that they just wish somewhere, maybe a couple of months ago, maybe a couple of years ago, somebody had intervened, somebody had reached out, some way somebody got to him, because maybe all of this heartache tonight could have been avoided.
COOPER: Martin, appreciate the reporting. Martin, thanks.
Coming up, "Raw Politics." Will Mitt Romney's win in Arizona and Michigan propel him through Super Tuesday? Even though Romney got more votes, Rick Santorum, said the night was also a huge win for himself in Michigan. We'll explain that. I'll speak with James Carville, Mary Matalin and Erick Erickson.
Also ahead, the lately on a deadly storm, that path of destruction. Where they're heading now. We'll get a live update from Chad Myers.
COOPER: More breaking news in the world of politics. Late this evening, CNN called the Wyoming caucuses for Mitt Romney. Wyoming counties have been voting all month, with the final county holding its straw poll tonight.
CNN now projects Romney wins with 39 percent of the vote, 33 percent for Rick Santorum. That's three wins in a row for Romney, fresh from winning Arizona and Michigan primaries. He headed to Ohio today to campaign ahead of Super Tuesday. Now, the victory, the challenge in his home state, was not as decisive as perhaps Romney would have hoped. Well, he did get more of the popular vote in Michigan. He and Santorum each picked up 15 of the state's delegates. Now all eyes are looking ahead at Super Tuesday.
At stake, just six days from now, more than 400 delegates in 10 states. John King has more.
JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, here's the state of play as we speak. We know Romney won them all in Arizona last night. He split the delegates, even though he won the popular votes, split the delegates 15-15 with Senator Santorum in Michigan.
Now, we just learned the final results in the state of Wyoming. Romney carries Wyoming in the caucuses. Some other candidates get some delegates.
Santorum now in second place, about one third of what Romney has. The race goes to 1,144, which you'll see; if you're at 181, that means you've still got a long way to go.
So where do we go from here? Washington state is up on Saturday. Here for this hypothetical, let's assume Ron Paul gets his first win of the campaign. Ron Paul picks up the bulk of the delegates there. The math changes a little bit.
But then we move on to the biggest day of the campaign so far and a huge challenge across the country, from New England to Idaho and Alaska, way out west, states in between, ten states on the ballot. You see here, 419 delegates at stake.
Here's a hypothetical for you. Romney wins in Massachusetts. He wins Virginia. Only Ron Paul and Romney on the ballot there. Gingrich wins at home in Georgia. Romney wins Idaho. Santorum wins Oklahoma. This shows Romney winning North Dakota, but you know what? Let's, for the sake of this hypothetical, say Ron Paul picks up a second win. We change the math there.
What does that get you? It gets you Romney starting to pull way. It also gets you a huge fight for the two biggest Super Tuesday battlegrounds, Ohio and Tennessee.
At the moment, Santorum is leading these states. So we make them purple, what do you get? Well, you get, then, Santorum in clear second place, starting to challenge -- still a bit behind, but starting to challenge Romney's delegate lead. That is what the Santorum campaign needs to prove; it is a long-term contender.
What does Romney want? To turn these two states. Watch all the spending over the next several days. Romney wants to turn both Ohio and Tennessee in his favor. If he does that, you see, the couple dozen more delegates. Now a huge delegate sweep if he changes the map, however, it gives Romney clear momentum. It starts to get him on the way, not quite on the way, all the way there, but it gets him well ahead of the others. That's what he wants from Super Tuesday, to prove he's the front runner again. Santorum needs to keep these purple, Ohio and Tennessee; keep them from going Romney red.
COOPER: John King, thanks very much.
Let's bring in our CNN contributors, Democratic strategist James Carville; Republican strategist Mary Matalin; and Erick Erickson, editor in chief of RedState.com.
James, to John King's question, can Romney turn it around in Ohio, in Tennessee?
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, probably (UNINTELLIGIBLE). This is not a race anymore, Anderson, in my opinion, between Romney and Santorum and Gingrich. This is Romney versus 1,144. That's the only thing that matters. He's the only candidate in this race that has a chance to get to 1,144. And every time these other guys gets delegates, it keeps him away from there. That means he's going to have to go to Tampa and deal with a situation when he gets there.
This is not -- he's not running against anything other than a number right now. Romney versus a number. That's the way I think this race is right at this moment. I suspect that Ohio might be a little more favorable to him than Tennessee, but I don't know. I'd like to see some votes before I came -- listen to Erick and Mary on that.
COOPER: Mary, if James is right that he's running against that number, the fact that he actually divided the delegate number with Santorum in Michigan, does that mean his win in Michigan wasn't so much of a win?
MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You know, we are ostensibly having a fight in the nomination process about purity versus electability in the general election, and we're imputing meanings to victories and defeats in the -- this nomination process that are completely irrelevant to the general election. They don't tell us anything of these -- go to the 14 swing states, which is all that's going to matter in the general election.
The process in those swing states include over half that are caucuses or nonbinding or conventions, which disincentivizes turnouts. It doesn't reflect the general election turnout.
And of the remaining half, three of them are home states of one of the candidates. So those will be discounted. So we're trying to impute meaning for the general election in a situation where there isn't any because we have new processes, we have new rules, we have super PACs, so many things.
I do think that Romney has to -- he's running against a number, but he has to do what he's always had to do, which is get the -- get the purity down, get the conservatives more mobilized and activated and psychologically, get them excited.
COOPER: Erick, a prominent Republican told CNN that the campaign after Super Tuesday was going to be, like, a lot like water torture. Has the race gotten to a point where it might be hurting Republican chances in this fall?
ERICK ERICKSON, REDSTATE.COM: I'm thinking that it's starting to hurt, if only because you've got a limited amount of money out there, and a lot of it is poured into the primary instead of going into the general election. Now, if they save the money, they'll be able to spend it in the general election.
But the burn rate, especially for Romney right now, has got a ridiculously high burn rate. You know, go back to John King's scenario. I interviewed Newt Gingrich this morning. And he doesn't see Santorum's prolonged viability, largely because of one of the scenarios John King highlights. What if Romney does win Ohio and Tennessee?
Then suddenly, Gingrich remains in second place in the delegate count. And he thinks that he'll be able to rebound. His staff told him this morning they think Santorum had his best shot at Romney in Michigan and fell short of it. And they really see this race rebounding between the non-Romney candidates, which to James' point, drags it out.
COOPER: James, to Mary's point, which was that Romney has got to come energize conservative more -- I think I'm right on what she said -- do you believe that this is actually -- by doing that, by trying to appeal to conservatives, someone who said Paul Begala last night on the program was saying he was moving to the right throughout this primary and caucus process. Is he alienating independent voters that he's going to need in the general election?
CARVILLE: Well, he's all right. I mean, he's not doing very well with independents at all, but Mary and Erick are right. You're not going to get the Republican nomination without, you know, stimulating the conservative vote. That's an overwhelming bulk of that.
But he's moved way to the right on this tax plan. He's now -- you know, in addition to being for the Bush tax cuts, he's for another 20 percent across the board tax cuts. He's already moved far, far to the right on immigration to the point where Jeb Bush refuses to endorse him.
So he's moving as fast as he can -- as fast as you can get to today's heading said he would be for the Blunt amendment. So he's going to keep on. He's going to have to do it, because he can't get to 1,144 unless he gets these conservatives who are enthusiastic about it.
MATALIN: Anderson, can I say this? I didn't make my point well to you earlier. It comes down to the swing states. No fundamentals have changed in the swing states. What we're talking about today is not going to -- has no meaning for the general election.
In the swing states, Obama's numbers are down. Republicans have greater registration than they had in the last cycle. The -- we have more Republican governors. We have more senators. We have more House members. We have more legislators. We have an infrastructure, so this -- and the intensity of the opposition to Obama and his decrease in his support in those spring states is what's going to matter.
So what we're saying today and say with authority that it's going to have an impact on the general election, it just isn't. We're not there.
ERICKSON: You know, Anderson, I think summer gas prices are going to have a bigger effect on the general election than what's happening right now.
If gas prices continue to go up, and people start pulling money out of other sectors of the economy just to drive to work, then the economy is probably going to suffer again. And it's -- there are so many external factors right now. It is hard to say, I agree with Mary on that point.
But at the same time, if the economy does start to improve, I asked Gingrich this morning, "What's the Republican backup plan if it improves?" And all he could really say was that the economy's not going to improve. Well, if it does, the Republicans may have some trouble.
CARVILLE: Anderson, I think this thing has not very good for Romney at all. I mean, any guy -- his numbers have really, really taken a hit. And he's having to -- he's having to keep pulling and keep pulling, because he's running against a number. He's not running against a person. And that's always a tough thing to do.
COOPER: Yes. James Carville, Mary Matalin, Erick Erickson. Got to leave it there, guys. Thanks very much.
Coming ahead, dozens more dead in Syria, the heavy shelling yet in the Baba Amr neighborhood in Homs, according to opposition activists. They saw only bad weather finally stopped the gunfire from helicopters aimed at people on the ground.
Also, ahead, the latest in deadly storms in the Midwest. Massive damage and tornadoes tonight. We'll track it for you ahead.
ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Isha Sesay. Anderson is back in a moment. Let's get the latest on the deadly storms. Chad Myers joins us.
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Things have really calmed down to what things were like last night at this time. Showers in Philadelphia and D.C., rain through Richmond, Virginia, along I-95, but things are a lot calmer right now.
A couple of showers are popping up with a little bit of lightning across parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia, but not like the storm that popped up last night. The storms that actually fired up in the middle of the night -- they typically don't do that. When the sun dies, like it did today, the typically storms die off, because you lose the heat of the day. It's that heat that will make the air want to rise like a hot air balloon. You heat the ground with sunshine. The air wants to rise, you get the bubbling clouds, and you get more thunderstorms. And that's what happened yesterday day. But yesterday night, storms kept going because...
SESAY: My apologies for that. Some type of technical problems with Chad's connection there.
We want to bring you some other stories that we're following in a "360 News & Business Bulletin."
In Syria, a siege on the city of Baba Amr neighborhood has left the opposition fearing an all-out ground invasion. Activists say for the first time helicopters fired at civilians on the ground today, and only stopped when snow started to fall. An opposition group said at least 29 people were killed throughout the country today.
A big agreement announced today between North Korea and the United States. North Korea has agreed to halt nuclear tests, long- range missile launches, and uranium enrichment programs in exchange for massive food aid from the United States. That assistance amounts to 240,000 metric tons of food stuffs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: The United States, I will be quick to add, still has profound concerns. But on the occasion of Kim Jong-Il's death, I said that, "It is our hope that the new leadership will choose to guide their nation onto the path of peace by living up to its obligations." Today's announcement represents a modest first step in the right direction. We, of course, will be watching closely and judging North Korea's new leaders by their actions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SESAY: A big step back for the government's attempts to get Americans to stop smoking. A federal judge ruled that a mandate requiring back up companies to place graphic images on their products is unconstitutional.
Fed Chairman Bernanke has caution today about improving the economy. In testimony before Congress, he said the job market is far from normal. Household income is flat, and that too many Americans still don't have access to credit.
Davy Jones of the Monkees has died of an apparent heart attack in Florida. He was the lead singer of the Monkees, a popular 1960s TV series. Davy Jones was 66 years old. And it's a new world record for paper airplane distance. Joe Ayoob threw a paper airplane 226 feet and 10 inches in a hangar at the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) air space -- Air Force base, in fact. Shattered the old record of 207 feet, four inches.
Ayoob has had some practice. He is a former NFL quarterback.
We'll be right back.
COOPER: That's it for us. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.