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THE SITUATION ROOM
Tornadoes Hit Texas; President Obama Slams GOP Budget Plan; Romney and Obama Make it Personal
Aired April 3, 2012 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: We're following the breaking news. A monster tornado turns day into night and hurls giant semi trailers into the air. We're going live to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where there's widespread damage already and an ongoing emergency. Stand by.
President Obama is now running hard for reelection. He's slamming the Republican budget plan as a radical vision that would simply help the rich get richer and threaten, in his word, the American dream.
And with primary voters at the polls in Wisconsin, Maryland and D.C., is this Rick Santorum's last stand? Can he convince Republicans that the race isn't already over?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Let's begin with the breaking news, tornado emergencies right now in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. And they're bringing extraordinary images of destruction. Look at these pictures that have been coming in. This was the scene in the Dallas-Fort Worth area just a little while ago as the sky turns dark. We see a massive funnel cloud draw closer.
Then this monster tornado descends on a truck park, picks up giant trailers as if they were little toys and sends them flying. Look at this flying through the air. That's just one of the twisters on the ground today.
Let's go straight to our meteorologist, Chad Myers. He's at the CNN Weather Center.
Chad, for viewers who are just tuning in, update them on what has happened over the past hour or so.
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: What has happened as two tornadoes, one going up 35W and one going up 35E. You have to understand, from San Antonio through Austin there's one interstate called Interstate 35. North of Dallas, there's one interstate going to Oklahoma, but right at DFW, part of the interstate goes to Fort Worth and part of the interstate goes through Dallas and they split.
Two tornadoes simultaneously, one going up 35E and one going up 35W were making damage on the ground. Right now we still have one storm here to the south of Dallas proper, probably headed toward Mesquite with a tornado warning on it. So this isn't even over for the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
When the storms were on the ground, we had those vivid pictures and you called it like toys. I was watching this live, Wolf, and it felt like I was watching my son throw an H.O. train around. That's what it felt like. Yet these are thousands of pounds, 5,000, 10,000 pound trailers, not the tractor part, but the trailers being throne into the sky and that's what it finally looked like, that organized parking lot there, completely disorganized as this tornado did move right up the 35E.
That was the Dallas storm, but simultaneously there was another storm on the west side of the city in Fort Worth. Here are those pictures again. Picking up the white trailers for a while and then you see it hitting the building and taking some of the roofing panels off the building and in the air you see debris. This is the debris.
This is the stuff that can hurt you while you don't want to be outside when there's a tornado on the ground, and then all of a sudden the tornado got to where the trailers were parked and they were picked up and thrown into the sky at least a couple of hundred feet. Those are 80-foot trailers, 80 feet long and they were at least double their length in the sky, Wolf.
BLITZER: You look at those pictures of those trailers and as you say, those are huge trailers, look at that, flying in the sky and maybe landing a few hundred feet away. You can only imagine if it lands on a house or if it lands on a store the destruction. We have no injury report yet, death or injuries or anything along those lines. We expect to get those first reports shortly, but have you seen trailers flying around like that recently, Chad?
MYERS: I have never seen it before.
In my lifetime forecasting, I worked in Oklahoma City and heard in El Reno of a school bus, no children in it and no driver being picked up and thrown one mile. It was hard to imagine it was possible. But when I saw this -- this wasn't even an F-4 tornado, this might have been 135, 140-mile tornado -- but the suction, the sheer massive power that this had picking up these empty trailers is the same power that the tornado will have moving a mobile home.
It's why we say if you're in a mobile home and the sirens are going off, you need to go to a shelter if you can, if you have time because although mobile homes are tied down, those straps simply cannot hold 140 or 150-mile-per-hour wind gusts. And that's what can happen and how tornadoes can roll mobile homes just as you saw them roll and toss these tractor trailers.
BLITZER: We will be speaking, Chad, you and me shortly to the Dallas county sheriff for an update on what's going on, but these trailers that you can see now the destruction there. We have also seen massive destruction in residential areas as well. As you have been pointing out, some homes virtually unscathed, you others totally destroyed.
MYERS: That's how the National Weather Service will determine the size of this tornado. Not by it picking up a fairly large, although empty container and throwing it in the sky.
The Weather Service will go out and see what a real stick-built home with nails and screws, what happened to that home, what happened to the roof, an F-2, F-3 taking the roof completely off the home and an F-4 taking all the walls except the middle ones, where an F-5, which is 200 miles per hour or more, only leaving literally the slab that the home is built on.
We haven't seen anything like that where only the slab is left or only a few walls are left, but when you see the roof gone on some of the homes and then even the second floor being taken away on some of the homes you're looking at, at least 135 or 140-mile-per-hour tornado as it rolled through the residential areas just to the east there of 35E in Dallas County.
I know for a fact, Wolf, there is much more damage than what we can show you yet in Tarrant County over just to the South of Arlington, Texas. The storm was bigger. It was on the ground longer, and it moved through more populated areas.
We just haven't got a helicopter over there. The weather is simply too bad over there to fly. There's still a tornado warning in effect for just north of Arlington, so certainly you wouldn't want to put a helicopter a pilot or a reporter in danger to get it over there, but I will tell you, as we look at this later tonight when the weather calms down and certainly by tomorrow, the images will even be more catastrophic.
BLITZER: And there have also been reports that passengers just at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport they were told to go into shelters there and they put a ground halt I guess on almost all of the flights, if not all of them right now. What do we know about the situation at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport?
MYERS: Think about any airport USA. What is an airport jetway, a little waiting area look like? It's completely glass. They want people and children to be able to look out there and see the airplanes and all of a sudden they can see the airplane take off.
That's what an airport looks like and here's actually a live shot from the airport right now, so when we had that two-inch hail marker on the radar heading right to DFW and also a tornado warning for the airport, everybody needed to get away from the glass. They needed to go into the interior hallways away from what you consider the jetway itself or the walkway to the planes.
So everybody had to scramble away from the glass into small little corridors and into hallways and you want to get yourself away from the glass and that's the people at DFW did. They had their people away from the glass. They kept everyone safe.
BLITZER: How much warning time for the folks in the Dallas-Fort Worth area which is obviously a very populated area was there, Chad?
MYERS: Well, the people in Cleburne, south and into Johnson County, they didn't get a lot of warning. That tornado was on the ground rather quickly, maybe one, two, to three minutes right after the warning was issued.
But that warning was issued all of the way up to I-35W even into Arlington and such. So the people up there had at least 30 to 45 minutes. The people to the east also had quite a bit of time because the storm to the west developed early. These were like two simultaneous ice skaters spinning at the same time going south to north, rolling right through two cities that sit side by side.
So the one to the west issued first happened first. The one to the east got a little bit more warning on it because the Weather Service said, wow, wait, that storm is already on the ground. We're not going to wait for the east storm to get on the ground and they probably had a good 20 minutes' warning and 20 minutes' notice
Even I have heard of some cities having to alarm them twice, turn the sirens on twice because they had so much warning. You get 20 minutes and people say it must be over because I don't hear the sirens anymore. They alerted again with the sirens blowing again.
You have to remember there's no such thing anymore as an all- clear. No one blows the sirens for all-clear. A second siren, the second time you hear that siren does not mean you can come out. That means something is still happening -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You know what's amazing to me, Chad, and you understand this so you can explain it. You look at these pictures we're showing our viewers. Some homes, the roofs are intact and they seem to be OK, but right next door the home is completely destroyed. Is that the result of structural differences in those two homes or is it something else?
MYERS: No, it's being hit by the vortex itself, being hit by the tornado where the house just to the right of that house that's almost gone is completely still there.
It's why some of those trailers, some of these tractor trailers are still sitting where they are. The wind speed inside the vortex will be 150 miles per hour inside the tornado itself, yet only about 50 yards away, the winds may only be 70. Well, 70 compared to 150 is a drastic difference. It doesn't seem it. It seems only twice as much, but with wind speed and wind force, when you double the wind speed, you more than quadruple the force on the home.
So the 70-mile-per-hour part may lose a couple shingles, where that storm that was under the 150-mile-per-hour part of the storm would be completely damaged. And that may only be 50 to 100 feet away.
BLITZER: I want you to stay with me, Chad, because Ed Lavandera, our man on the scene in the Dallas/Fort Worth area right now, is in his car and he's driving along.
Ed, tell us where you are. These are live pictures you are feeding to us right now. I understand the audio is not great, but give us an update.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
We're on the southern edge of downtown Dallas driving toward the areas that have been hardest hit in the southern edge of town earlier today. I just came out of a massive wall of rain that was falling. And that seems to have broken up and what we see now is kind of those clouds -- I like to describe them as kind of mangled fingers dropping out of the sky.
And you are just waiting to see if any of these clouds start taking shape, start spinning and rotating like tornadoes and that's what we're watching closely. We know there are more storm cells that continue to move through the area and we're watching this as closely as we can.
But right now we're headed toward the town of Lancaster, which took a hard hit just a few hours ago with one of the first waves of the storms that came through the area today. I don't know if you can make out through the rain there on the glass, but you can see kind of these clouds and the line of clouds that are real dark butted up against the lighter shade of clouds.
And it's that edge of those storms that really appear to be the most disconcerting as you see them dropping from the skyline trying to wait, and see if there's any kind of formation there or any rotation and enough power to develop these clouds and these storm cells in the tornadoes and that's what I'm watching closely right now.
BLITZER: Chad will come into this conversation in a moment, Ed. Does it look like the severe weather, this horrible weather and these tornadoes are moving away from the Dallas area or toward the Dallas area?
LAVANDERA: I think Chad will have a better bigger picture idea of what is going on, but my sense is a lot of these storms, the giant storm cell is moving from west to east, but within that storm there are storms moving north-northeast throughout out.
And it's those individual cells that are what we're trying to watch closely. And it's just like they're just little spots all over the Dallas-Fort Worth area, so depending where you are will kind of dictate just how serious the situation will be, but here on the southern edge, you can really sense that the sky has grown much more ominous and much darker as we start getting closer to it once again.
BLITZER: Let me bring Chad into this conversation.
Chad, I'm sure you're as concerned as am I and all of our viewers. Is Ed Lavandera, who is driving through the bad weather right now in the Dallas area, in any trouble?
MYERS: He's not in immediate trouble, but the answer to your question is it moving away or toward Dallas, the answer ironically is yes.
There is one cell east of the city that was rotating earlier that I actually warned Ed about. It is moving away from Dallas-Fort Worth right there, but there's also more weather still to the west of Dallas where Fort Worth is almost in the clear and it will move back into Eddie's location, but there's no rotation on this yet.
But another thing that has happened today, Wolf, we have had reports of hail to the size of tennis balls. That will destroy your car. And if you're going 70 miles per hour, that will destroy your windshield and send glass shards anywhere. So, not just wind and not just tornadoes, but large hail is possible tonight as well.
BLITZER: Ed, we're looking at these live pictures that you're feeding us from your vehicle. You're driving in the Dallas area right now.
There's traffic out on the streets. So folks are driving. How fast are you going right now?
LAVANDERA: I'm just able -- I'm on the -- I'm driving south on Interstate 35 on the eastern fork of it, so it's 35E.
This is Interstate 35 so it goes right up through downtown Dallas. I'm driving south out of downtown Dallas. It's really on the edge of that storm I think Chad was talking about, because just off to the right side of our car -- and we're going to try to move the camera to give people a better sense of what we're looking at. But you really sense just how -- how much and how dark -- and how much more dark and ominous the clouds look on this other side.
BLITZER: Yes, those clouds look -- yes, those clouds look awful.
LAVANDERA: When we were talking to Brooke, we were trying to get to the edge of it.
MYERS: Ed, it's Chad. Can you hear me? Are you south I-20 yet, Ed, or are you still north of I-20? Are you south of I-20 or north of I-20?
LAVANDERA: North of I-20.
MYERS: OK. So, Wolf, here you go. Here's exactly where Ed is right here. Here's on the I-20 comes in, stays on the south side of Dallas and Ed is actually literally right here -- right here on I-35 where a storm has already moved off to his east. This was rotating and still has that purple box. That's a tornado warning on that box and that would be for mesquite, even, as well and the next storm that's coming at him is to the west. This storm here is essentially a little bit less severe than the one that just missed him, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, those clouds -- look at those clouds, Chad. Give me your assessment, because that looks really ominous to me and these are live pictures. I just want our viewers to understand and appreciate that these are coming from Ed Lavandera's vehicle. He's driving in the Dallas area right now. It breaks up once in a while, but those clouds look pretty awesome and devastating, Chad.
MYERS: They do. And I can't get to my dive down radar at this point of time, but I would wall them more of a wind threat coming in with this next cell. So the winds will probably gust at any of these locations to 50 and 60 meals per hour crossways, cross the car from right to left as he's driving, trying to blow the car into the median.
And that storm still to the west, though, is now going into and is now into an area that we call used up. You have to understand there's only so much potential energy in the atmosphere at one spot and just because the storm just went through there about 10 minutes ago, a lot of that heat and energy is gone. When you get a thunderstorm, it gets cool and that's what's happened where Eddie is now -- the temperatures have gone down significantly and therefore, reduces the threat of the next storm that comes in as long as it's not an hour or two, because sometimes it can become sunny again and you're back into 80-degree air.
I don't think Eddie is in 80-degree air anymore and the storm to his west that's heading at him does not have the potential at the one that just used up the air did.
BLITZER: And this emergency, this crisis in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area continues. If you're watching us right now, don't think it's over by any means. Ed Lavandera is standing by. You're looking at his live pictures coming from his vehicle in the Dallas area. Chad is with us.
We're going to stay on top of the breaking news. We're not going anywhere. We expect more tornado pictures, new information coming in this hour. It's a real weather disaster that's unfolding right now in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. A major, populated center.
Also, other news we're following, including the race for the White House. It is heating up dramatically today as President Obama for the first time goes directly after Mitt Romney by name.
BLITZER: All right. Take a look at this. These are pictures coming in from the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. The destruction, a set of tornadoes pummeled the area, and it's still continuing to slam this area right now. Folks just begin to go out.
I want to warn them, be very, very careful. There are nails and destruction all over the place right now.
Look at this. This happened a little while ago. That is a huge trailer that's simply lifted up into the sky and tossed around as if it was a little toy. Those are huge trailers that are flying across the skies as a result of these tornadoes, these high-intensity tornadoes.
Chad Myers is standing by and Ed Lavandera is driving into the scene right now. We're going back to them in a moment. But I want to check in some other important news happening as well, including in the race for the White House.
Mitt Romney is still in a bitter fight for the nomination. Voting is going on right now in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia. But the GOP front runner is already turning his attention to November -- so is President Obama and it's already getting personal.
Let's go live to our White House correspondent Dan Lothian.
Dan, tough speech today from the president. And for the first time, he's uttering the words "Mitt Romney".
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He had tough for Republicans, also for the Ryan budget and also Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, who has been getting some big endorsements, is focusing less on his Republican opponents and more on the president.
LOTHIAN (voice-over): President Obama and his Republican opponents have been exchanging blows from a distance, but the presidential race has shifted to hand to hand combat -- Obama versus Romney.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He said the other day that he's doing a historically day job like Lincoln, LBJ and FDR. And this was not said on "Saturday Night Live." He believes that.
LOTHIAN: As the GOP front-runner continued campaigning in Wisconsin, President Obama was at the "Associated Press" luncheon in Washington, where for the first time in a speech, he singled out Romney by name -- mocking the Republican hopeful's support for the controversial Ryan budget plan.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Governor Romney has said that he hoped a similar version of this plan from last year would be introduced as a bill on day one of his presidency. He said that he's very supportive of this new budget, and he even called it "marvelous" -- which is a word you don't often hear when it comes to describing a budget.
LOTHIAN: The former Massachusetts governor didn't actually say the budget itself was marvelous, but he used the word in a tele-town hall last night.
ROMNEY: I think it would be marvelous if the Senate were to pick up Paul Ryan's budget, and to adopt it and pass it along to the president.
LOTHIAN: The general election may not be officially under way, but it sure sounds like it.
OBAMA: I'm Barack Obama, and I approved this message.
LOTHIAN: This week, the Obama re-election campaign rolled out its second national television ad, this time targeting Romney by name in a rebuttal to criticism of the president's energy policy.
NARRATOR: Mitt Romney stood with big oil.
LOTHIAN: The vice president has been taking shots, too.
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think Governor Romney is a little out of touch.
LOTHIAN: But Representative Paul Ryan, whose budget proposal was attacked by the president as, quote, "radical" and "thinly veiled social Darwinism," had his own harsh assessment of the president's record, while campaigning with Romney in Wisconsin.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: And we are witnessing a day, another day in which we have a president who is really good at giving big speeches. The problem with our president is he's not good at leadership.
LOTHIAN: Now, the Republican National Committee also went after the president in his speech today, saying that it was cynical and it was deeply partisan and that's it clear that the president is going to run a campaign on, quote, "fear and distortions rather than hope and change" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: So the gloves are clearly off right now. We've entered a new phase in the president's bid for re-election, Dan. Is that fair?
LOTHIAN: I think that is fair, although it's not official yet, by the president singling out Mitt Romney by name. He's talked about other Republicans, even Mitt Romney himself. But he's not directly put him in a speech. So, this clearly represents a new mark in his campaign, Wolf.
BLITZER: Dan Lothian at the White House for us.
Let's a little bit dig deeper right now with our chief political analyst Gloria Borger.
As soon as the president was done speaking today in Washington, Speaker Boehner said, "The president has resorted to distortions and partisan potshots." Gloria, what is this telling you?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it tells me that each side is doubling down. And what we're seeing as an election, Wolf, that is shaping up in which each side believes that by drawing a neon line, they can win. I mean, take a listen to what President Obama said today about this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I can't remember a time when the choice between competing visions of our future has been so unambiguously clear.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BORGER: It's clear, Wolf. The White House wants to make this a choice election. But I'm beginning to think that the Republicans have decided that that's fine with them, too. You want to make it a choice, because what Mitt Romney believes is by emphasizing conservative principles he can get enough voters to vote for him and clearly the White House has made a decision -- we're going to attack those conservative principles because in the end, the people who voted for us and independent voters are going to be with us.
So, a real line in the sand here, Wolf.
BLITZER: Congressman Paul Ryan from Wisconsin -- a new Romney supporter, the chairman of the Budget Committee -- wasted no time in going after the president. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RYAN: So we'll hear another big government populism speech from the president today. I have no doubt about it. And in these kinds of speeches, what he'll do is he'll characterize those people who do not agree with where he's taking America as if we're some kind of villain in a cartoon, like the cartoons we watched on Saturday growing up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Where does Paul Ryan fit into this whole picture?
BORGER: Well, Paul Ryan is actually the chief villain in that cartoon. He has become the poster child --
BLITZER: From the White House's perspective.
BORGER: From the White House's perspective, right.
He's become the poster child for conservatism when it comes to the deficit. His budget plan, Wolf, wants to revamp Medicare. And the Democrats basically believe that that is bad for Republicans and it is going to be very good politics for them, and it is essentially become the Republican platform because the Ryan budget was voted on unanimously by house Republicans and eventually -- not right at first, but eventually Republican presidential candidates rallied around it like Mitt Romney. So be sure it's going to be the centerpiece of the Democratic campaign saying Paul Ryan and his cohorts want to take away and change your Medicare.
BLITZER: Maryland and D.C. close at 8:00 p.m. tonight. Wisconsin, 9:00 p.m. You'll be with us throughout the night and we'll have more on this.
But there's breaking news we're following out of the Dallas-Ft. Worth area right now. I want to get back to those tornadoes ripping apart major chunks of a very populated section of Texas right now.
Chad Myers is joining us once again, our severe weather expert.
Chad, we're getting new information on what's going on at the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport. Tell us.
MYERS: Yes, you know, exactly. There was some hail. We had a ground stoppage which means no planes can take off or land in that area. No planes can take off from other airports. We had 22 planes still in the air, circling and trying to land DFW.
And now just so I get the latest information here, a brand new tornado warning was just issued for Mesquite, Texas. This is a brand new one off to the east like Mesquite Metro Airport and Forney. That's the storm here to the south of Sunnyvale. There's Mesquite and the storm will possibly be on the ground right near Mesquite Metro Airport, and then across into the northeast as it tracks across the I- 20 from I-80 and U.S. 80 right through here, and eventually, this is I-30, to the north of this.
More weather still to the west of Dallas, Dallas-Ft. Worth airport out here. So, every time there's another cell that heads to the Dallas Metro Airport, everything comes to a stop, Wolf.
BLITZER: Let me read to you and to our viewers, Chad, the statement that the Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport just released, because I want to go through it line by line with you, and you can help clarify.
BLITZER: Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport experienced a severe weather storm today, including reports of pea-sized hail at the airport, causing flight delays and cancellations starting at about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday afternoon. That would be Central Time.
DFW customer service teams sheltered passengers prior to the arrival of the storm as a precaution. Severe thunderstorm activity in the area prompted the airport to activate its irregular operations concession plan, with restaurants staying open to accommodate passengers whose flights are delayed or canceled due to the severe storm.
The statement goes on to say at this hour DFW airport staff is inspecting the area for any possible damage and debris, but we have no reports of any issues at this time. It concludes by saying this, while the severe weather threat is passing, there are still several cells that will pass through the airport within the next hour. DFW advises passenger to take all appropriate precautions and to check flight information prior to coming to the airport.
So that's the latest we have from there. I think we have the Dallas-Fort Worth sheriff on the line, but, Chad, give -- give us your assessment of this severe weather statement from DFW International Airport?
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: There's still more weather coming. It's not over yet. In maybe an hour they'll be able to make the all clear, but there will be thousands of people that don't make connections or don't make flights today, simply because you cannot land in the weather that we had. You cannot land in what the potential downdrafts of these storms or the updrafts of these storms, and the winds that can come out of different directions as planes are preparing to land, all of a sudden, the wind changes direction and the plane is not lined up with the runway.
They are letting the concessionaires stay home which means that -- or stay there. They will stay all night long to make sure that these people that have to stay the night will be taken care of. They will certainly, with a lot of people sleeping at the airport, I expect, tonight, they will probably get the cots and also the blankets out tonight.
They will do many things to make these people as comfortable as can be because sleeping in an airport chair or on the floor is never all that comfortable, but they are out of danger at this point. There is still more weather to come in and every time a storm, not rotating right now there, but any time a storm comes in there's a potential for one to two-inch hail and a one to two-inch hailstorm could -- clearly do a lot of damage to the airplanes and also still break out some of those windows.
That's what the airport's lined with. Wall to wall, floor to ceiling windows, because you want to see the airplanes.
BLITZER: Chad, I want you to join me in this next conversation, the sheriff of the Dallas County, Lupe Valdez, is joining us on the phone.
Sheriff, give us the latest information you're getting first of all.
LUPE VALDEZ, DALLAS COUNTY SHERIFF (via phone): Well, it appears that we have a series of tornadoes. It's more than one that has touched down and, of course, we've got boots out on the ground and they're all -- they're all looking at pretty severe areas that have been hit.
BLITZER: Where is the most damage as far as you can tell, Sheriff, right now?
VALDEZ: Well, it appears to be just south of the Dallas area, about 15, 10 miles out of the Dallas area which is the Lancaster area, and I understand Wilmer, which is also south of Dallas, has also been hit. Our officers are going to several locations right now.
BLITZER: And Sheriff, are you saying that this is by no means over with yet in your area? This crisis continues?
VALDEZ: It appears that there's more bad weather coming upon us, so we want to make sure that we don't send our officers out into the middle of -- of a tornado or anything before we really go out there. So we're monitoring that so that as we send our officers we're not sending them directly into the eye of the storm.
BLITZER: Yes, that's smart. Chad Myers, our meteorologist --
(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: Our meteorologist -- Chad Myers wants to ask you a question, Sheriff. Sorry for interrupting. Did you want to finish your thought?
MYERS: Yes. You know, there's an awful lot of weather still headed your way. And I know that's what you finished with, making sure that your crews are not in danger and let me tell you there's enough weather to believe that the crews are -- and people outside are still in danger. People at home need to stay inside and let the officials and the authorities do their job.
What -- are you seeing people going out and be gawkers at this point in time or is everybody kind of cooperating?
VALDEZ: We're trying to keep people in. I know in our county courthouse we have over -- we have about 800 people gathered around and we're asking them to stay -- to stay put. We've also held our shift of -- from detention, our jail, which held them and asked them to stay put until we're sure that the weather has passed over since we don't want them to become part of the -- part of the problem as we continue on, trying to help the people that are already out there.
So everyone we run into we're asking them to please stay put and just find shelter as close as they can and not be going about.
MYERS: For Dallas County, it is not over -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It certainly isn't. And Sheriff, I don't know if you know this, but American Airlines has just announced that all of its flights out of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, it's a major hub for American Airlines, have been canceled, all flights have been canceled, at least for today through the night, that, obviously, Sheriff, shouldn't come as a surprise to you.
VALDEZ: I am aware that. We're trying to keep track of everything that's going and as you can imagine in a city this big, there is a lot of stuff going on. We have set up several command centers to try and keep abreast of the issues that are happening, and I can assure you they're happening by the minute.
So we're trying to not only help but put out information of the latest weather that we have or anything that we have.
BLITZER: How worried are you, and I know most people, almost everyone get together, they work cooperatively to deal with a crisis or tragedy like this. How worried are you, though, that bad people will try to take advantage, steal things? Are you worried about that at all, Sheriff?
VALDEZ: Actually, we got message that some of it has already started and we've deployed several of our folks to that area which was badly hit and, of course, there's some people that will always take advantage and that's why we are here. We are there to try and save whatever some people have -- may have lost. So we are aware of that and we're trying to jump ahead, but we're trying to be as many places as possible. BLITZER: Do you have any initial reports of casualties, Sheriff?
VALDEZ: None serious. None so far. We are still assessing. We are having all kinds of information come in and we're still assessing the situation. So we won't really know until we can actually go into this area. For a while we were going house by house until we were aware of some other storms coming behind us and so we stopped it to get our officers out of the way, but we did start a house-by-house situation to see if there was anybody we can help.
BLITZER: Do you have any advice, any suggestions for people in the Dallas area who are watching us right now, what they should and should not be doing?
VALDEZ: I think you've already mentioned that. They need to stay sheltered. They need to stay in an area that we won't have to come and help them out. We have our hands full. There's already a lot of situations where we're going to need to go help. So we're suggesting that everybody stay in a safe location until all of this is over.
BLITZER: Are you satisfied, Sheriff, with the system, the way it worked, the warning that came in? Did you have enough time to prepare for this or were just -- these tornadoes just developed out of the blue?
VALDEZ: There's never -- there's never such thing as enough. We jumped into emergency mode real quickly and our officers did a wonderful job of just getting out there immediately and trying to assess the situation, but as you are well aware, it still continues so we're still getting the warnings and we're still trying to get the warnings out.
BLITZER: Chad, do you have another question for the sheriff?
MYERS: I don't, Wolf. I just want you to know, Sheriff, that we are hoping for the best for you because now another line of storms coming through, but, Wolf, we are going to get with Tarrant County here in the next hour. Tarrant County was really, really damaged badly by a different tornado, a much larger one than what we had in Dallas County.
Right now in 30 minutes, Sheriff, you're going to be in the clear. Give yourself, give the people of Dallas, Dallas County 30 minutes and everything is going to get better from here -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Did -- thank you, Chad. Don't go too far away, Sheriff. I'm going to let you go, but did you see those pictures of those huge trailers being flown around in the skies blown away? The destruction, because we're getting some new information on that. We're going to share with our viewers. But have you seen those images, Sheriff?
VALDEZ: Actually, I didn't -- I didn't see those, but I've seen several. I'm seeing some of the pictures that you all sent and our local station have had, but we do have officers out there. So I'm sure some of them are getting video of stuff that is going on, at least, and we're looking at some of those pictures now, but actually we're more concerned about getting out there and trying to get some help to all these folks.
BLITZER: Good luck and we're counting on you, Sheriff. I know you and your whole team are doing the best you can. We wish all of you in the Dallas County area and throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area only the best.
Sheriff Lupe Valdez joining us on the phone. We'll stay in close touch, Sheriff, with you as well.
Brian Todd is also getting new information on these trailers, the truck company involved. We'll share that with you. We'll take a quick break. We'll stay on top of the breaking news right after this.
BLITZER: Our affiliate in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, KDFW, is having some dramatic pictures coming in. Let's listen in briefly.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The reason I say that is I'm assuming the kids are probably still in that school because most schools have delayed release of the kids. So just to mention that, as well. We want to make that point that Jason had said Forney High School has not been hit, just to confirm.
Jason, is that tornado still on the ground?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It has just lifted, Larry. There's still debris falling from the sky. It's unsafe to move any further north at this time. The winds are still out of the south. It's kind of like the circulation stopped temporarily.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was actually a very small tornado. It kind of curled -- it was really cured up, very small, however, it was extremely violent.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We saw there on your screen, and what we're seeing now is, it looks like the storm has lifted from our vantage point. What we're seeing on your mobile 11 cam here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is in Forney, again this is our storm chaser, Jason McLaughlin.
Jason, I'm going to let you kind of reposition yourself. If you have the chance to kind of assess the situation and obviously, relay anything --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, Larry. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can do --
BLITZER: All right. We're going to break away from our affiliate KDFW. We have another storm chaser Chris Hare joining us now on the phone.
Chris, where are you? What are you seeing?
CHRIS HAIR, STORM CHASER: Hey, Wolf. We are just east of (INAUDIBLE). And that's going to be a little further north on that storm that you guys were talking about. We're trying to reposition ourselves to get in front of it safely, of course, but we should be in front of it the next 20 to 25 minutes. We followed quite a few storms out of Arlington, Texas, (INAUDIBLE) County area earlier today which brought us into McKinney. It seems like the storms crossed the boundary there and kind of died out. So we're in the process of repositioning ourselves and getting ready to intercept the next storm.
BLITZER: What exactly are you bracing for? More tornadoes in the area or just severe weather?
HAIR: You know, Wolf, we really feel like the conditions are still favorable for tornadoes whether they be strong or not, it's still up in the air, but conditions are still extremely right for some kind of storm to just start (INAUDIBLE) and throw out some kind of tornado.
BLITZER: And so you're going to try to get as close as you possibly can, and show us the pictures subsequently of what you're seeing. It's a pretty dangerous profession you have. How worried are you about this?
HAIR: You know, it's a calculated risk and I've been doing this for over 10 years and you learn (INAUDIBLE) how storms behave. So you learn to get in the area of where you want to see and the shot that you need to get for media and other people to be aware of this. We ought to do that safely and know exactly where you are and how to get out of it.
BLITZER: And I know you take precautions. What you have you seen so far? Paint the little picture for us. What has happened there over the past hour or so?
HAIR: The past hour or so, it seems like the storms got into the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex and really kind of took off really well and there's a boundary if you will, it seems like, the storms were kind of crossed over, and then they would just kind of rained their selves out and lose their tornadic characteristic. But anything as far as south of that boundary, still has the opportunity to throw down a tornado.
BLITZER: So basically, is this something extraordinarily unusual for your area over there in Dallas-Fort Worth or is this something you guys have learned to live with over the years?
HAIR: You know, I got to tell you I've lived in north Texas all of my life and I've done -- like I said, I've done this for 10 years. And it's April, you know, in the southern plains and this is the time of year that you prepare for this and, you know, storm preparedness for people that don't necessarily do it need to start in February or March, not necessarily when the time is here, when you get the tornado comes up.
BLITZER: So you're going to be bracing for more of this as we go along and how close did you say you are to the front, shall we say, where the severe weather, maybe even tornadoes are approaching?
HAIR: We're about 10 miles from Greenville, Texas, and that's going to put us about between 10 to 15 miles away from that storm, so we're trying to get out in front of it and find a safe route to get to that position where we can actually see what's going on.
BLITZER: Well, Chris, if it's OK with you, we'll stay in close touch with you over the next few hours and we'll see what happens. And we wish, obviously, everyone our best.
Chad -- Chris, hold on for one second because Chad Myers is with us, as well. Our severe weather expert.
Chad, do you have a question for Chris?
MYERS: Yes, Chris, are you trying to core-punch through this now? Are you trying to go through the hail cord to get to the east side of this cell?
HAIR: Absolutely not. That's just the cardinal rule that I don't do. I won't core-punch the storm because what happens is you get the southern end of that storm where the tornado is and you come out of this big rain shaft, and that thing could be right in front of you. And you --
HAIR: So my plan usually is to get a little further east and then drop down or even come in behind it so I know exactly what's going on and where I am.
MYERS: Very good. That's the safest way around this thing.
You know, clearly, Wolf, what he's trying to do is get ahead of the system, ahead of the cell, taking pictures, getting in the way. Roads don't go straight sometimes. You have to do what you can do, but you know this is a professional chaser with professional equipment in the car. A NOAA weather radio and a pickup truck does not make you a chaser.
Stay home with this. There's an awful lot of rain out there now. This has become an H-P system, high precipitation system, an awful lot of rain. Some of these tornadoes may even be wrapped in rain. You wouldn't even know that you were in the rain or near the tornado until it was right in front of you -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very quickly, Chad. Explain to our viewers once again why they no longer give an all-clear after a series of tornadoes goes through an area like this.
MYERS: Well, the issue is and they used to. Even when I lived in Nebraska there was an all-clear, but an all-clear sounds an awful lot like another siren because the sirens go around, they try to warn you if you're outside. And this is kind of an area of debate among meteorologists all across severe weather country.
Do you really try to put enough warning sirens in to wake someone up in their home or do you just put enough sirens in to tell them to go inside if they're outside? And that's where a NOAA weather radio will do both. A NOAA weather radio will alert you, will wake you up if this weather is happening at night, or at a place where you're not right in front of your TV or near a siren.
There can't be sirens every one mile. It's just -- it's impossible to even think that that could possibly happen nor could there ever be all of them fired off at the same time. What chasers do is they help the weather service, and chasers like this, and like Jason were talking to, they help the weather service determine whether a significant amount of rotation that we see on the radar is enough to put a tornado on the ground. Storms rotate all the time, but there's a threshold where the weather service says that is enough. Enough is enough, that's enough rotation, we're putting out a warning for you, we're putting out a warning for this county. Everybody must take shelter.
BLITZER: We're showing our viewers new video just coming in courtesy of our affiliate WFAA. You can see what's going on. The roofs completely torn away. You can see inside the homes and the destruction there.
Just to think a couple of hours ago people were living in those homes and look what's happened to the homes right there. It's pretty shocking.
MYERS: And Wolf?
BLITZER: And devastating. Go ahead, Chad.
MYERS: There's going to be more damage than we've seen yet. There's going to be an exponential amount of damage in Tarrant County. We know that there are gas lines leaking. There are homes completely missing. There are -- there was a significantly bigger tornado that we have not seen aerials of yet because it has not been safe for the helicopters to fly there yet.
So I want everybody to stay with us. We will get these Tarrant County pictures on as soon as we can. It was a much larger and more dangerous and possibly more deadly storm than what we're showing you right now.
This is Dallas County, Fort Worth and Dallas are in different counties. Fort Worth is in Tarrant County and the storm that moved very close to Arlington did a lot more damage than you're seeing now, and that is significant. If you live in that house for sure, we're talking about a tenfold amount of damage just to the west with the storm that was on the ground, much longer and much larger.
BLITZER: That is heartbreaking news. The worst is yet to come. We'll stay on top of this story.
Chad, don't go too far away. I want to thank Chris Hair, the storm chaser, for joining us as well. We'll check back with him.
Brian Todd is standing by. He's got new information on those trailers that were simply flying through the skies. Much more of the breaking news coverage right after this.
BLITZER: Let's get back to the breaking news we're following out of Texas. A tornado outbreak in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
CNN's Brian Todd is also monitoring the latest for us.
Brian, we saw some of those trailers simply flying through the skies and the aftermath of those tornadoes. What are you seeing? What's going on right now? I understand you're getting new information.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are, Wolf, new information regarding that spot where you saw some of that horrific video in the early stages of this. You're looking at it right now. That is the Schneider National Trucking Company on LBJ Freeway just outside of Dallas. You saw the video there. That happened at about 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time and 1:30 p.m. local time in the Dallas area.
Those flashes that you see in the video there, those are transformers, power lines being cut, but then you see these tractor trailers being tossed up like matchsticks. That is the Schneider National Trucking Company, their branch near Dallas. There's a still picture of one of their tractor trailers just hoisted into the air. Some of these things got tossed for hundreds of yards and we just spoke a short time ago to Janet Bonkowski. She is a spokeswoman for Schneider National Trucking. She's based at their offices in Wisconsin but she was able to give us an assessment of what they know at the moment about that facility near Dallas. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JANET BONKOWSKI, SCHNEIDER NATIONAL TRUCKING: We are currently assessing the status of these associates who were on location at the time of the tornado. At this time there are no reported injuries. Certainly in a situation like this that could change. We hope that it doesn't. We had (INAUDIBLE) that there's no damage to our building, but significant damage to the equipment that was on location in our yard area in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: In addition, in addition, she give me some information about that facility. She said 65 people work there full time. There are about 300 truckers who come in and out of that facility on a daily basis, Wolf, and again she was not clear yet on how many of them were kind of transiting in and out of that yard there. It was middle of the day so it could have been busy, we're not sure yet.
And one important point that you didn't hear in that little clip, she told me that they didn't yet have a full accounting of where all of their people are, but she says they're working furiously to get that accounting. Again, 65 full-time employees at Schneider Trucking facility near Dallas, 300 some trucks come in and out of there every day. They have 254 trailers on the premises, 204 -- excuse me, 254 tractors on the -- premises, 204 trailers.
Clearly there are some significant damage. We saw that aerial footage there from WFAA just in the moment after that occurred. That happened -- those first pictures of that damage occurred about 2:40 p.m. Eastern Time, 1:40 p.m. local time in Dallas. Again just some of the horrific images that we've seen today of those tractor trailers being hoisted up into the air and that update from Janet Bonkowski. But she is very clearly stressing to us at this moment, while they're saying no injuries for the moment, they are still assessing, I guess, a positive sign.
You can take from this, Wolf, no damage that she said to their building so I guess they're just excavating that yard there to see where some of those trucks got hoisted and see if there's anyone around in that wreckage.
BLITZER: It looks like the tractors were separated from the trailers. The trailers were the ones being hoisted and being flown around. Did she say -- I assume those tractors were empty of goods. Do we know for sure, Brian?
TODD: She doesn't know for sure. Again, they're still assessing who was around and who wasn't at the time that this hit. You know, remember, she's actually operating from their offices in Wisconsin. They have people on the ground obviously surveying this damage and reporting back to her. So she's getting information fairly incrementally as the rest of us are, and of course, you know, you saw the video as well as I did.
Some of those trucks got hurled hundreds of yards from their original point so they may have -- they may take a while in trying to figure out where those got taken to and just -- you know, just how much damage is on the ground where they are. So this may take a little while as far as that particular trucking company was concerned.
Initial reports, again very initial, no reports of injuries at this facility. That could very, very well, though, change -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, Chad Myers told us in all the years he's been covering hurricanes and tornadoes he hasn't seen these kinds of pictures of these trailers being flown around the way they are, and he used to work out of Oklahoma where there are a lot of tornadoes, as we all know. Did the spokeswoman for this trucking company say that this is extraordinarily unusual?
TODD: She did, and she was still kind of trying to kind of giving me a sense that they were getting their heads around this. Obviously, they just don't see this kind of thing with their facility there in that Dallas area, too, too much, at least maybe not this early in the year. Maybe some tornadoes come through that general area, but they have not seen anything like this.
You know what was extraordinary is we were seeing this happening in real time. We are watching this from that aerial camera as it was happening. We have seen similar things happened in Joplin, Missouri, last year. Even when the earthquake and tsunami hit in Japan, of large trucks just being, you know, moved hundreds of yards from those events, but you didn't see it in real time happening in a lot of those cases. You saw it after the fact.
BLITZER: All right, Brian, I know you are continuing to do some reporting. We'll get back in touch with you. Thanks.