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Deadly Explosion in Texas Fertilizer Plant; Spelling Bee Final Rule Change

Aired April 19, 2013 - 04:00:00   ET


CARL AZUZ, CNN ANCHOR: I`m Carl Azuz. Welcome to CNN STUDENT NEWS. We`re starting with a story about an explosion Wednesday night at a plant at a town of West. It`s located in Texas. The impact from this explosion was felt up to 50 miles away, and in the town itself, devastation. Thursday, officials said anywhere from five to 15 people may have been killed, more than 160 others were injured. Martin Savidge has more details.



MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Stunning video: the West fertilizer plant at the small town of West, Texas, about 20 miles from Waco, exploding. A blast and the massive fire that followed living dozens of homes and buildings heavily damaged or destroyed. The town`s mayor telling CNN what it felt like.

TOMMY MUSKA, MAYOR OF WEST, TEXAS: I`ve never seen any explosion like that. It`s just a ball of fire, just went up like a nuclear bomb went off. Big old mushroom cloud.

SAVIDGE: The blast was strong, it registered as a magnitude 2.1 earthquake. Half of the town`s 2,600 residents were forced to evacuate. Officials concerned about potentially deadly gas fumes and a second fertilizer tank that could also explode. People living near the plant feared for their lives.

CRYSTAL ANTHONY, WEST, TEXAS RESIDENT: When it exploded, we all just hit the ground, and I was trying to cover up our daughter, because there was a lot of debris flying. And then after that, it was just basically search and rescues.

SAVIDGE: The smoldering fire and fumes prevented rescue workers from getting near the plant, officials say the blast area resembles a war zone.


AZUZ: Authorities say they`re not ruling out the idea of criminal activity, but they didn`t have any evidence yesterday that indicated anything criminal. There were some concerns about a substance, though, called anhydrous ammonia. It`s a gas that`s used to make fertilizer. The fumes from it can cause irritation, even suffocation. When it`s mixed with water like water in the human body, it can cause severe burns, so officials were worried about people being exposed to it. The explosion Wednesday night sent out a shock wave. People who were blocks away were knocked to the ground. Houses were destroyed or severely damaged.

In Boston, investigators are working leads as they try to track down information about this week`s terrorist attack. Yesterday afternoon, the FBI identified two suspects, two men who were at the scene of the bombings. You can see them here in white and black baseball caps. Officials released these images, partly in hopes that the public could help identify the suspects. They`re asking the public to go to to see the images and provide any tips they have.

As the investigation moves forward, many people in Boston paused Thursday for reflection. An interfaith service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross honored the victims of Monday`s attack. There was heavy security outside, and a number of police officers inside, too. Police and other first responders were part of the crowd of around 2,000 people who attended the service.

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama were there as well. Later in the day the president met with first responders and volunteers at a local school, and the first lady visited patients, families and medical stuff at nearby hospitals.

During yesterday`s memorial service, several speakers talked about how the city of Boston is coming together in the response to this tragedy.


REV. LIZ WALKER, ROXBURY PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH: We are gathered in community, and through the blur of each other`s tears and the beats of so many broken hearts, we will rise in community.

MAYOR THOMAS MENINO, BOSTON: I`m telling you, nothing can defeat the heart of this city. Nothing. Nothing will take us down, because we take care of one another.


AZUZ: If you`re looking for ways, either the victims of Monday`s attack in Boston or of the explosion in West, Texas. There are ways to get involved. You can go to our homepage, head to the resources box and look for the "Impact Your World" link. That`s where you`ll find some details on how you can help make a difference.

A day after two letters that apparently contain poison arrived in Washington D.C a man in Mississippi was arrested in connection with the case. One of the letters was addressed to President Obama, the other was addressed to U.S. Senator Roger Wicker who represents Mississippi. Both letters initially tested positive for ricin, a deadly poison. But they were intercepted at a location that screens mail for this type of thing.

The mail arrested is Paul Kevin Curtis, a 45-year old entertainer from Mississippi. He`s also suspected in the mailing of another letter to a Mississippi judge. Investigators say all three letters had the same words, in the same font, on the same type of paper. They also reportedly contained a quote that Curtis had on his Facebook page.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just the facts: in 1993, there was a standoff between the U.S. government and members of an armed religious cult the Branch Davidians. The standoff lasted 51 days outside the group`s compound in Waco, Texas. 20 years ago today, on April 19th, the government agents launched a raid on the compound. A fire broke out inside and by the end of the day around 80 people have lost their lives.


AZUZ: The raid in Waco is one of several significant events that happened on April 19th or 20th. Another happened two years later in Oklahoma City. On April 19th, 1995, a bomb went off at the Alfred P. Murrah federal building. 168 people were killed and more than 500 others were injured. Two Americans, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were convicted in the attack. McVeigh received the death penalty, Nichols is serving life in prison. The site of the federal building was turned into a park and memorial with 168 stone and glass chairs arranged in rows, one chair for every victim of the bombing.

On April 20th, 1999 tragedy struck Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Two students carrying guns and bombs were responsible. 13 people, 12 students and one teacher were killed. The gunmen took their own lives, and 23 others were injured. A memorial to the victims of the shooting opened in 2007 at a park near the school.

Finally, that started in the Gulf of Mexico, but had a direct impact on cities and states all along the U.S. Gulf coast. On April 20th, three years ago, there was an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, 11 of the 126 workers on board were killed. Beneath the surface, oil began spilling out of the well and despite several efforts to try to contain it, the spilling didn`t stop for months. 205 million gallons of oil leaked out in the Gulf of Mexico making this the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

Teacher Appreciation Week starts on May 6th, we know you want to shout out your favorite teachers, but this year we want to know what superlative you think they deserve: most cheerful, most helpful, most likely to be awesome. Be on the lookout for our next "iReport" assignment at We`ll have more info on this next week.

Have you watched or been in the spelling bee and seen a contestant asked for a word`s definition? You won`t see it anymore in the national spelling bee. At least not in the early rounds. Now, competitors have to spell their words and know what they mean. This change in the rules and when it was announced could spell controversy.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The pressure builds, competitors fidget, parents can`t bear to watch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: R, H, I, N, E. - saratorhine (ph).`

WIAN: This year the spelling bee will be even tougher, contestants in the preliminary rounds of the national finals also will be required to know the meanings of words.

PAIGE KIMBLE, EX. DIR., SCRIPPS NATIONAL SPELLING BEE: The reason for the change is all about extending the bee`s commitment to its purpose, which long has been not only to help students improve their spelling, but also to increase the vocabulary, learn concepts and develop correct English usage.

WIAN: Don`t tell that to 11-year old spelling bee competitor Sanat Mishra.

SANAT MISHRA, SPELLING BEE COMPETITOR: It doesn`t make sense, I don`t get the rule.

WIAN: Sanat has one local and regional spelling bees, one prize was this iPad, and last year he made it to the finals of the South Asian spelling bee. He`s now studying and hopes he`ll reach the national finals, where South Asian Americans have won ten of the past 14 competitions.

MISHRA: I check the pages, look for words, then later my mom asks me the words - like Iapygian right here.

WIAN (on camera): Right. And can you spell it for me?

MISHRA: I, A, P, Y, G, I, A, N.

WIAN (voice over): It`s a group of ancient people living in Southern Italy. Not knowing that might knock you out of this year`s competition. The new rule is controversial in part because it was announced only seven weeks before the national finals.

MISHRA: Yeah, there is going to be a lot of last minute studying, and that`s never good.

KIMBLE: The timing of our announcement of incorporation of vocabulary is absolutely fair. April is the first opportunity to engage all of the participants who have qualified for the national finals.

WIAN: SCRIPPS and ESPN both reject speculation the rule change`s TV ratings driven, perhaps in effort to limit the number of competitors in the finals. The vocabulary test won`t be televised. Sanat`s parents have no problem with the new rule.

SUDAM MISHRA, FATHER: If they make the rules harder, it will be for everybody.

SUCHARITA MISHRA, MOTHER: The number one person, he`s going to be number one no matter how many rules you change.


WIAN: Casey Wian, CNN, Chino Hills, California.


AZUZ: So, knowing definitions can help you rule and not knowing them could spell disaster. Word, either way the competition should still be exciting. Teachers, don`t forget to hit our homepage to tell us what you think of today`s show, have a great weekend, everyone.