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Tornado Devastates Parts of Illinois and Indiana; Interview with Rep. Lynn Westmoreland; Investigation on Benghazi Attack Continues

Aired November 18, 2013 - 07:00   ET

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


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Kate, "harrowing" is one of those words we use because sometimes what happens just describes language, and what people here went through is jaw dropping. Twisters like this one that you're looking at right now just carved up central Illinois. Storm chasers went after this one in nearby Streeter, that you're looking at now.

And we are in Washington Illinois. We had to be here this morning because it was so hard hit, the most in 20 years. Take a look. You can see what's behind me once we get off this video, you see where we are standing. But you've got to see what this neighborhood looked like before. This is what it was, a typical, beautiful place, where people had taken the time to build up their home and their yard. Now you can see what's behind me. And this is not the worst of what this area has taken.

We will show you this. We are covering this storm like only CNN can. But first, we want to show you what happened right here in Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CUOMO: It's like being under attack. Over 80 massive funnel clouds slash across the country within hours Friday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our father, who art in heaven.

CUOMO: Prayers echo in basements as a monster sized twister roars above. Central Illinois took the brunt of the fury. A string of tornado left several dead, dozens more injured just north of Peoria.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We may need to take cover ourselves.

CUOMO: Newscasters were abruptly rushed off air. The tornado ripped right past their studio.

Down south Washington County was devastated by a tornado. Wind reports of 200 miles an hour spun entire blocks of homes to the foundation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I felt the house shaking, and waited probably about a minute and came back up and saw what you are seeing here.

CUOMO: In the community of Beacon, authorities went door-to-door checking on residents for fear of gas leaks. One resident described the aftermath as a war zone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm just devastated. I just feel sick.

CUOMO: Further south the tornado carved a path of destruction in Brooke Port, directly hitting two mobile home parks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't have anything. My whole, it's gone. I don't know where it went.

CUOMO: Widespread funnel clouds even spotted in Chicago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please clear the seating area calmly.

CUOMO: Tornado warnings forced officials to evacuate Soldier Field, delaying the Bears game.

But once the twisters passed, there was a new blast of energy, clean- up efforts, waves of people coming to each other's aid, looking for survivors, searching for valuables, toppled semis pulled upright, and most importantly, spirits raised.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll make it through it. We're so grateful that, you know the lord preserved so many lives here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CUOMO: You know, we had the mayor on earlier this morning, the mayor here in the city of Washington. He said there are so many people who came out to help their neighbors that they had to turn people away. That's the kind of resolve taking place in this community and communities all over the country. Remember, it was 100 million people threatened in 26 different states. So it's not just about Illinois where we are. Indiana saw several huge tornadoes touch down. Power was cut to 160,000. Schools are closed in some parts of the state after buildings sustained damage. So we have to tell you that story as well.

George Howell is in place in Kokomo, Indiana, which took a big hit. Good morning, George.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chris, good morning. So whether it was straight line winds or a tornado that came through here we hope to learn more as the day goes on. But, look, I can show you plenty. If you look at this, the winds were strong enough, Chris to hang around, big poses of metal. Jordan, if we can pan down here, take a look at this fire station. You can see the fire truck there. The roof collapsed on top of it. This morning, even the firefighters will need help digging out after what happened here. There is a lot you can't see. Just down the street here there's a business, it seems to be a mall, where the roof has been ripped off. There are many businesses here where the windows have been busted out. A lot of property damage here in Kokomo, Indiana.

We do understand the governor will be here to tour the damage in the next several hours. But this community, Chris, remains under a state of emergency. People are told to stay in their homes, stay off the roads, keep out of the way as there is a lot of damage that crews will be assessing this morn morning.

CUOMO: All right, George, it's interesting. It's such a beautiful picture over your shoulder right now, the irony that a day ago the sky was so different. Same thing here, very cold this morning and a cold reality as well, one of the men said it was like the tornado had hands the way it twisted everything up. We see that behind us. Now a beautiful sky is starting to come up on what is going to be a very tough day for people, Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: So much damage out there. One of the things we have to figure out is was it straight line winds or was it actually damage from a tornado? Really, the answer will be a combination of both.

First, keep in mind how rare this is. This is November. Typically you see about 50 tornadoes for the entire country for the month of November. Here they saw about 81 reports or tornado in just one day. So let's talk about why, what was the setup yesterday? Yes, we are cold, but yesterday, that was not the case. Temperatures are about 20 degrees above normal. They were seeing 70s yesterday.

But still, that's not typically what you see in the springtime, so what allowed the severe weather outbreak? We had a high risk, yesterday, only the second of the entire year. What it was, there were already these strong winds coming out of the south, 70, 80 miles per winds were out there regardless of the tornado. You combine that with temperatures above normal.

Then you have the jet stream in place, so you had all these perfect elements come together and give you that severe weather outbreak. Keep in mind, there were 500 reports of wind damage out here. Notice, look at the damage we're talking about. We are talking about bark literally stripped off the trees. This is actually a residential area. You can't even tell what this looked like just 24 hour hours ago. And really over to the left in a two story building you can't see right now, but cinderblocks are even knocked down. So you really have to wonder, how strong were these winds? And that's what the National Weather Service will be evaluating today. We don't know exactly what the strength was until they really come out and survey the damage and indicate how strong it was.

CUOMO: We have a lot of evidence, though, we are seeing things manipulated by the winds that will give those who know real insight into the situation.

PETERSONS: Overturned vehicles and the structural integrity of those buildings.

CUOMO: Obviously, the best information isn't going to be statistical. It will be anecdotal. For example, Anthony Khoury, we have been showing you the video he shot all morning long. He and his family were in their home in Washington, Illinois, where we are when this tornado just came barreling through their neighborhood. Take a look at the extraordinary video Anthony shot through his window. He was looking no his backyard at the time. This is what he saw.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTHONY KHOURY, TORNADO SURVIVOR: Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Amen, I believes deliver us from evil. That was the direct page there. That was like right out of "The Wizard of Oz." Antony, I'm so happy you are OK. Your family is OK?

KHOURY: My family is OK, thank goodness.

CUOMO: So you were sitting there, you are not in the basement shelter yet. Did you eventually go to the basement? Take us through it.

KHOURY: First of all, my mother was cooking lunch for the family. What my dad thought was a helicopter, he looked out the window. And it was a massive black tornado just destroying everything in its path. So we quickly ran to the basement where I was with my mother, my father, and I. We were all praying together.

CUOMO: So had you heard warning sirens? Did your phone go off? Did you have any idea it was coming?

KHOURY: We heard some sirens. We thought it was going to be a small storm. We didn't think it was going to be a big deal.

CUOMO: It's something you deal with here growing up. You understand storms can come.

KHOURY: Yes.

CUOMO: You locked out that window, it was like "The Wizard of Oz." What did you think?

KHOURY: There was nothing, anything I had seen in my entire life. Growing up in walk for 16 years, it's always been a peaceful town.

CUOMO: And we know this is a prayerful community about 15,000 people. A lot of folks were in church yesterday.

KHOURY: Yes.

CUOMO: The first thing that came to mind when you locked at that is literally, you need to appeal to a higher power to deal with this?

KHOURY: Pretty much. Good gives me strength and courage to endure all sorts of sufferings abreast.

CUOMO: So what came to bear? You go to the basement, what do you hear happening above?

KHOURY: Just loud noise, destruction, concern about the people, my neighbors.

CUOMO: How long did you have to stay down?

KHOURY: We were down for about five minutes. We just waited for the dust storm to pass, the tornado to pass by. We eventually went upstairs, checked out the neighbor.

CUOMO: Just five minutes, yet, all that destruction. You come up, what do you see?

KHOURY: Well, as soon as we, as soon as the storm passes by, me and my dad, we checked out the neighborhood, all we saw is the complete destruction, all the houses demolished. Complete rubbish. Just people crying and, you know, seeking for help.

CUOMO: How was your home?

KHOURY: My home was completely fine. We're blessed. It was undamaged, uncorrupted, and we are thankful for that.

CUOMO: So now you are OK, but so many in the neighborhood are not. Did you have people come who need help, node a place to stay last night?

KHOURY: Well, a lot of my family and friends, they heard about the news, and they were concerned about me. And there was all the phone lines were down. And so I quickly drove to Peoria, which is about 15, 20 minutes away, and so I can make contact with all of my friends and family telling them I'm all right.

CUOMO: What did you see in the families and the community around you, how they responded to this once the storm passed?

KHOURY: They were just all really upset. A lot of them lost their homes. Some of them even lost their families and members and, you know, my heart goes out to all those people.

CUOMO: Do you know that people will come together and find their way back?

KHOURY: That's what I'm praying for, that's what I'm hoping for.

CUOMO: It's just amazing when you look around. Do you know what this looked leak yesterday before the storm?

KHOURY: It's unbelievable. I cannot even fathom this.

CUOMO: Thank god you are OK. Your family is OK. You have a place to stay, we keep hearing from the mayor, everybody says the same thing, you will be back here in Washington.

KHOURY: Yes, I will.

CUOMO: Thank you for telling us your story and the presence of mind to shoot that video and then to get downstairs where you belong in a horrible situation like that. That's the situation here in Washington right now. We'll keep bringing you back here and telling you the story of who they dealt with here and how they made it through, but a lot of other news as well. So let's get to Michaela in New York.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Chris, a compelling account there from Anthony, thank you for that.

Checking our latest news, investigators are trying to find the source of a carbon monoxide leak after to Colorado miners were killed, at least 19 others were injured. "The Denver Post" now saying an explosion has been ruled out as the immediate cause. A manager said that all the miners are required to wear personal ventilators and that the two men who died had them. He also said the mine will be closed while the investigation continues.

Look at this, an eyewitness captures the terrifying moment typhoon Haiyan's powerful storm surge hit the Philippines, the waves so powerful they wipe out a house. The video was shot by an aid worker who took refuge on an upper floor of a boarding house.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning the U.S. not to ease sanctions against Iran. In fact, he wants them ratcheted up. Netanyahu says the only way to force the Iranians to abandon their nuclear weapons program is to keep up pressure. Secretary of State John Kerry is tentatively scheduled to travel to Israel for talks with Netanyahu at the end of the week.

Two sailors are recovering from minor burns this morning after a malfunctioning drone crashed into their ship off the coast of southern California. A Navy spokesman says two ships were tracking the unmanned drone as a part of the training exercise Saturday. It slammed into their guided missile cruiser, the UUS Chancellor. About 300 people were aboard at the time. An investigation is underway.

Music festival in north London came to a screeching halt when a performer Sunday attempted to jump into the crowd. American rapper George Watsky, seen in this incredible video, bad idea body, standing on the lighting high above the concerts main stage before leaping into the audience below. Two audience members were reportedly hurt. Watsky for his part has been hospitalized. They don't know exactly what injuries he sustained, but he has posted an apology on his Facebook page.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: I can't even say it seemed like a good idea at the time. That was bad from the beginning. Thanks, Michaela.

PEREIRA: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: Coming up next on NEW DAY, we may finally be getting some answers as to what happened in Benghazi. The man in charge of taking testimony from those who were actually there, eyewitnesses, well, that man is speaking out exclusively on NEW DAY. The new information he knows coming up.

PEREIRA: And forced to ride out the storm. We will speak to one man who said his house crumbled around him in less than a minute. How exactly did he and his family survive? We'll talk with him.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY. For the first time testifying before Congress, five CIA contractors who were eyewitnesses on the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi. In closed door meetings last week, witness gave their first hand accounts. Joining us now exclusively is the chair of the House intelligence subcommittee handling these investigations, Congressman Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia. You questioned all of these witnesses, Congressman, thank you so much for coming in.

REP. LYNN WESTMORELAND, (R ) GEORGIA: Thank you for having me.

BOLDUAN: This is something you and many of your colleagues have been demanding since the beginning; getting first hand testimony from the people who were on the ground. This is the first time these five CIA contractors have spoken to Congress. So what did you learn in those closed door meetings? Does their timeline coordinate with what the administration has been telling everyone?

WESTMORELAND: Basically, the timelines are the same as far as when these activities started. There is a little discrepancy, between, you know, was it 9:32, 9:42. But, basically we know when it started. The big question has been was there any lull in the activity? And you know in Benghazi, after talking to these guys, it wasn't unusual at night to hear gunfire or explosions or whatever.

So once they got back to the annex, they did take some small arms fire, maybe an RPG, but you know, during the night, it was probably -- they were probably arranging for the attack that happened about 5:00. And so, yes, there was movement probably all night and it was probably some probing fire, but as far as an un -- just an ongoing gun battle, that was not true.

BOLDUAN: And the reason a question of a lull is key to this investigation is because there has been a question all along is could more support have been brought in, would air support have been made any difference? The administration argues no because they believe it was over after the first attack. Do you believe that's accurate?

WESTMORELAND: Well, it was not -- I don't believe it was over after the first attack, but I do believe there was a lull in the fighting. Now, there was still probing, you know guns being shot. As far as getting somebody else there, they had been a directive issued in August of 11 that basically tell the personnel in Libya, you are on your own. So we are looking into that directive to find out exactly who put that out and this was brought to our attention during the hearing.

BOLDUAN: In speaking with these five contractors, do they believe that they were left alone? Do they believe that they did not have -- there wasn't the help that they needed, the protection that they needed because of the threat of just the reality on the ground in Benghazi?

WESTMORELAND: Well, first of all, let me say, if it wasn't these GRS, or global response staff there protecting the annex, I believe every American in Benghazi would have been killed at the complex and at the annex. And these guys were very heroic in what they did. And naturally, they were calling for all the support they could get. They were fixing to go into an unknown situation, seven of them. Sure, they were calling for support, but they were calling for the eyes (ph) of the drone -- the overhead intelligence and, you know, they had been in different places in the world and probably were used to having some different type of coverage, I'm sure they were asking for everything, you know, with the kitchen sink. But what the reality of that coming was I don't think was ever there.

BOLDUAN: There has been a big question about the non-disclosure agreements, that CIA operatives -- that they have been asked to sign, that there has been some reporting that the CIA had been trying to prevent its personnel from coming forward, from speaking to members of Congress. It took you guys a year to get them to come speak to you. Do you think that you have been stonewalled?

WESTMORELAND: Not by the agency, I don't. You know, it took us a long time. We want to try to get these witnesses back-to-back, and you can imagine some of these guys have been re-deployed. Some of them had retired. Some of them are working for other companies. They live in different parts of the United States, and different parts of the world, but we want to do something like an attorney would do preparing a case.

We wanted to get all the FBI, all the CIA, all the State Department, we want to get those out and our committee has had 13 different committee hearings talking to these agencies. Then we wanted the eye witnesses to come in. The last two or three months has probably just been coordination of trying to get them here together because we didn't want to do them one individually and let an air leak out, so we didn't want to contaminate the witness. So that's the reason it took so long. But as far as the non-disclosures, yes, these were done at the gold star ceremony when --

BOLDUAN: Does that seem suspicious to you?

WESTMORELAND: Yes, it does, we are looking into that. Now, the fact that some of them were modifying their contracts, or maybe writing a new contract, due to a new non-disclosure security agreement is not that unusual. The ones that aren't, we're looking into that, we're trying to find out why at that time they were asked to do this. Now the non-disclosure does say I believe in the ninth paragraph that they do have permission for unlawful or improper activity to report to the House Intelligence Committee and to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you real quick. This has all gotten very political in the year following this attack, many partisan attacks on both sides of what went down and if there was a cover-up in the aftermath. From what you know, you know more than many, you have spoken to people on the ground. Do you believe everything was done to protect those on the ground? Do you believe this attack could have been prevented? Do you think folks did their jobs?

WESTMORELAND: Absolutely not. I think this will come back to the State Department. The RSOs, the regional security officers, there were five of them at the temporary mission facility. When the CRS agents got there from the annex, they were not armed, one of them was bare footed and I think they were totally unprepared for any type of attack.

If you look at the compound, itself, it is not set up for protection and if you -- when we interviewed these guys, they said they were really surprised that the lack of security at the mission facility. They also testified that the people at the facility had been wanting help, requesting help, requesting additional security in fact, you know, they just couldn't believe that those guys were over there as unprepared and unequipped as they were.

BOLDUAN: I know this isn't a question that you are focusing on in the intelligence committee, but do you believe there was a cover-up after the fact?

WESTMORELAND: I don't think they knew what they were doing. I mean, I don't know that it was a complete cover-up. I don't think there was any doubt that they knew it was a coordinated attack. And you can see the results of that by the accuracy of the mortar fire that came in at five that morning. But as far as the compound goes, you know I don't think there was ever any doubt of either there and I don't know how they got their communications mixed up, but I think what ended up happening, you had the State Department trying to tell one story and you had the security -- the intelligence community that may have been trying to sell another story.

BOLDUAN: It sounds to me like part of your investigation continues. It sounds like you have some answers, you have more questions on what went down that night.

WESTMORELAND: Yes, ma'am, we have more questions. We will run everything to ground. We have been running everything to ground, we have been chasing every rabbit that's popped its head out of the hole and we're going to continue to do that and as Chairman Rodgers, Ranking Member Ruppersberger (ph), and Speaker Boehner said, you know, we're going to let the facts lead us to the truth. That's what we will continue to do is just get the facts.

BOLDUAN: Congressman Lynn Westmoreland, thank you for coming in this morning.

WESTMORELAND: Thank you for having me.

BOLDUAN: We continue to follow this story, but let's get back to our big story out of the Midwest. Indra Petersons is there, in Washington, Illinois with the latest forecast. Hey, Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Kate. Now, remember, these storms were so fast moving yesterday, that as they roared through the area, we were talking about them moving at 55 miles per hour. It is that exact same storm system that this morning now is affecting the east coast. Now, there was some concern yesterday that we could be looking at a slight risk. There is no longer a slight risk for severe weather in the northeast. Regardless though, you can actually see currently it's made its way off shore from D.C. and currently affecting the mid-Atlantic in the northeast today with some light rain. The story remains to be those strong winds, we are still talking about 30 even 40-mile-per-hour winds really affecting the mid-Atlantic areas.

So with that, look for flight delays in that region. If you are on the great lakes and especially if you are flying in that area, you are talking about even stronger winds; 50 to 60-mile-per-hour winds will be out there, of course, that lake effect snow.

The big thing I want to talk about is actually this system that is dumping snow in the pacific northwest. We are talking about high elevations, think about Montana, Washington, Idaho. You're talking about a good 8-10 inches of snow today. Why does this matter? Well, this is the system that is making its way into this area by mid-week. I mean, it is very chilly out here this morning. We are talking about temperatures that are in the 30s, it feels like it's at the freezing mark with these gusting winds out there. The conditions are only going to worsen, Chris. By the way we get to Wednesday, we will be talking about heavy rain and stronger winds. Really, this is the best scenario we have over the next 48 hours.

CUOMO: The sun is coming up now, but what it's revealing it's really painful. The last thing they need here is going to be bad weather, because there are so many displaced, so it will make it worse. Luckily, this community is tight. We will be tracking the reaction across the country. Thank you for the check-in.

Indra will be with me here the rest of the morning, of course. Coming up on NEW DAY after the break, we talk about these Midwest tornadoes because they have ravaged communities, and people are waking up to the awful destruction. We will be live with updates and we're going to be here in this hardest hit area, Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right. Chris. Also coming up, the anniversary trip to paradise turns into a nightmare for an Arizona couple. Their story eerily similar to a hit movie. They talk to us about what they say was a harrowing experience at sea.

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