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THE SITUATION ROOM
Fire and Floods Threaten the Country; Sterling's Wife Under Scrutiny; Wildfire Out of Control in California; Obama to Visit Poland; Company Defense Claim It Found Missing Plane Debris; LAX at a Ground Stop
Aired April 30, 2014 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Jake, thanks very much.
Happening now, killer floods, a foot-and-a-half of rain in just 24 hours unleashes torrents of fast moving water on the Florida Panhandle, trapping hundreds of people, cutting off many more.
Is more rain about to make this disaster even worse?
Seizing control -- new takeovers by Russian militants in Eastern Ukraine, defiantly occupying more government sites. We go there live.
Is the crisis, right now, on the verge of exploding?
Family affair -- the wife of disgraced Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, could she be the team's next owner now that the NBA has banned her husband for life?
We have new details of their complex relationship and her own legal wrangling.
New search -- Navy ships set out to look for Malaysia Flight 370 thousands of miles from the current operation. The company claims to have found a plane in the ocean near Bangladesh. Experts call it far- fetched, but could it be the missing airliner?
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking news stories right now. Fire and floods in California. Flames are burning out of control near Los Angeles, threatening homes, forcing residents to flee. And in Florida, deadly flooding, unlike anything most of the residents have seen in their lifetimes. Hundreds of people have been trapped by fast rising water, leading to some very, very dramatic rescues.
CNN correspondents are covering all angles of these breaking stories.
Let's start with CNN's Paul Vercammen.
He's in Rancho Cucamonga for us out in California. What's the latest on that fire -- Paul?
PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this fire has now burned 800 acres. We can tell you, just a short time ago, fire roared through this canyon. We saw at least 10 acres burn up there. We've had 1,600 homes evacuated. No homes burned down yet. The good news for these firefighters, there is what they call defensible space. You can see all this asphalt over here, the fire burning in this vast national forest. Absolutely so much smoke just kind of blotting out the sun and everything else at this time.
A lot of resources now responding to this fire. And they are responding quickly. We've got at least 550 firefighters on the ground. But you're not hearing helicopters and you're not hearing fixed wing aircraft. That's because the winds crested at 80 miles per hour, just absolutely vicious winds. It's too dangerous right now to fly and drop water via helicopter or retardant via fixed wing aircraft -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What are they saying?
What's expected in the next hour or two?
VERCAMMEN: Well, what they're saying is, is they actually think that the winds will die down. That will help firefighters immensely.
Another point to make is as they get more resources here, you can look way down the street there, Wolf. You can see engines have literally been going right by us. They're able to get in what's called structure protection. And that's when these crews ring an area -- we also saw a dozer cutting fire line -- and do that job that is so necessary, which is cutting fire lines and is using existing asphalt and other forms to defend these houses against the fire.
And so far so good. As we said, we haven't seen any homes burned.
As you look at that Forest Service truck, these are critical, because they can go up these canyons and without having to hook up to any sort of fire hydrant. They carry enough water in the back there that they can get out to this fire.
Most of it is burning in this wild land up here. As I said, we haven't seen anything dramatic where, let's say, a home has caught fire. So that is the good news so far -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's hope it stays like that.
All right. Paul.
We'll stay in touch with you.
The fires out in California. Now to floods in Florida.
Our meteorologist and severe weather expert, Chad Meyers, he's in Pensacola -- Chad, what are you seeing there? CHAD MYERS, ATS METEOROLOGIST: We're seeing streets that have turned into rivers. But there's no street left. The asphalt's gone. The base level's gone. The sand is gone. It looks like a river. It looks like the Canadian River in Oklahoma City, all sand underneath, water running through streets and people saying, how did this happen?
We didn't have to be -- ask for flood insurance when we bought the house. It's never flooded here since as long as I've lived here. That was in 20 or 30 years.
But the water came up today.
Here's what it's like if the water comes rushing into your house at 2:00 in the morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And this is (INAUDIBLE) right now. And I just talked to my engineers at that engine now. And he said (INAUDIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And then through the back doors and flowing in out this door. So we just had water in the house. We had little kids. We were getting a chair to perhaps get in the attic. We didn't know what exactly was going to happen. And this was a pretty frightening evening.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MYERS: Some people did have to get in the attic, Wolf. It got that high in some of the houses.
This was a flash flood. I would be waist deep in water just 12 hours ago. But it's gone. It's way down there now.
But that doesn't help when the water is in your drywall, the water is in your wood floor, the water is in your electrical system, the water is in your basement, for one thing. I mean not a lot of basements here in Florida, but, you know, some people were pumping out water from their homes today.
So the flash up and the flash down doesn't help when you're soaked -- your couch is soaked, your chairs are soaked, your TV is ruined and everything else gone, too. A lot of rebuilding here.
Some people were telling me they'd rather their home get knocked down by a tornado than flooded like this, because it's a longer process to put this house back together than put a tornado knocked down house back together, because at least you get the money right away and you can start to rebuild. This is just a mess.
BLITZER: Yes. We are looking at these amazing videos that -- that was shot showing these floods, showing these homes. Obviously, a lot of them are going to be destroyed by -- by all this water.
Yesterday, Chad, you were chasing tornadoes.
BLITZER: Today, floods.
Is this connected?
What's going on?
MYERS: We had a rash of good luck in Alabama and Mississippi. But the people of the Florida Panhandle here, they took the brunt of it. We didn't get tornadoes here. But what the moisture that should have been in Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Tupelo, to make tornadoes there, didn't get there. It was cut off right here at Pensacola.
And that water rained and it rained and it rained. You'll talk to the mayor in just a minute, what it was like, for 20 hours of nonstop rainfall. Some co-op reports the Weather Service say 25 inches of rain in 24 hours. Now, some of that unofficial. But if you have a big enough bucket, you can see how much rain came down. There's no place for two feet of water to go that comes down in one day. That's more than half of your year's rainfall total in less than 24 hours.
BLITZER: All right. Well, these pictures are really devastating.
Chad, we'll get back to you.
I want to bring in our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray.
She's over at the CNN Severe Weather Center -- Jennifer, this is obviously a horrible situation, but is more rain actually on the way?
JENNIFER GRAY, ATS METEOROLOGIST: Just isolated showers as we go through tomorrow and possibly Friday. But as we get closer to the weekend, things should really start to calm down. And we're not going to see what we've seen over the past couple of days. Things are definitely improving, minute by minute.
Now we just have a few coastal showers here in the Panhandle and that's really it.
Look what happened, though, over Pensacola. These are rainfall estimates. You can see in the white right over Pensacola, more than 10 inches of rain. That is a lot of rain for one place.
And what happened?
Just like Chad said, we had all of this moisture basically stuck right over the Florida Panhandle. Nothing was pushing it out of the way and so these showers just stayed over that one area. And if you think of a train on railroad tracks, one car after another, over the same spot over and over and over, that moisture just stayed right there and produced incredible amounts of rain. We're looking at almost 19 inches of rain in Milton. Pensacola, picking up 18 inches.
And so this rain has definitely caused huge problems across the Panhandle. As we go forward in time, you can see we could see about four more inches of rain. But this is farther east than Pensacola. And if you look up to the East and the Northeast, a lot of this rain is going to push into the Northeast. New York City could see two to three inches of rain. We've had flood watches and warnings in the DC Metro area, where we've seen two to five inches of rain today. And the same situation, these showers going over the same area for several hours at a time and not letting up. That's what's causing all of this rain -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jennifer Gray, we'll get back to you.
Ashton Hayward is the mayor of Pensacola.
He's joining us now live.
Mr. Mayor, thanks very much for coming in.
First of all, what's the latest on your search and rescue efforts?
Is everyone in your town at least we'll get back to you.
MAYOR ASHTON HAYWARD, PENSACOLA, FLORIDA: Everyone in our town is we'll get back to you.
Wolf. We have no confirmed deaths in the City of Pensacola. There is one confirmed death out in the county. However, we've been doing rescue all night, obviously, starting late in the evening last night, all the way into the early morning hours. So we've been very fortunate, helping people out of cars and their homes, Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, when I think of Pensacola, the Panhandle, I think of the threat of hurricanes, as I'm sure you're very familiar with, not floods.
How unusual is it to get flooding like this?
Are the folks prepared for these kinds of floods?
HAYWARD: I can tell you, Wolf, it's an anomaly, in all due respect. You know, coming back home from New York City and having Hurricane Ivan hit us in 2004, the great flood in 2012, and now, last night, we all thought the concern was tornadoes. And then the storm just sat over Pensacola and dumped over 22 inches in less than 24 hours.
So this was unexpected for our community.
BLITZER: So what happens now?
Do people have flood insurance?
What do you need?
What do the people in Pensacola need, because this is a -- this is a major city. HAYWARD: The governor called me at 4:20 Central time, Wolf, and left Tampa to Tallahassee and straight over here. He brought the National Guard, brought his team of DOT folks. And, obviously, as you said, some of our citizens do have flood insurance and some don't. But everyone is working together, the city, the county, the state of Florida. And we're coming together. As you said earlier, we're very proactive when it comes to storms. And so right now, all hands are on deck.
BLITZER: So what do you think, in the next two, three days, more bad weather?
Or is the worst of it over?
HAYWARD: The weather forecast is clear, to our understanding, Wolf. It's going to take a lot of man hours and a lot of time to get our roads back. We've had floods like you've never seen. It looked like a river, like your reporter talked about earlier. And Pensacola is not used to that.
However, we've got teams on the ground right now, from our public works department, our engineering department. And we're going to make it happen, because you've got people out of homes tonight. You've probably got close to 1,000 people that are going to be displaced tonight and in the weeks to come.
BLITZER: Mayor Ashton Hayward of Pensacola, good luck to you.
Good luck to all of the folks in the Panhandle.
We'll stay in constant touch with you, as well.
And take a look at this. This is a live picture just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from nearby Baltimore, Maryland. A street has apparently collapsed. These are image, by the way, courtesy of our affiliate, WJZ. There's been very heavy rain all day in the Washington/Baltimore area, as well. Emergency crews are assessing the situation. We're going to keep following this story for you, as well.
Still ahead, a helicopter tour reveals massive tornado devastation.
Dozens of lives lost, countless more turned upside down. We're going live to the disaster zone.
And a shocking appearance at a Clippers' game. The wife of the disgraced owner, Donald Sterling, just hours after the NBA banned him for life.
Could she wind up being the team's next owner?
BLITZER: She's suddenly a key player in the biggest scandal to rock the NBA in years. Shelly Sterling, the wife of Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who's now been banned by the league for life over racist remarks. Shelly Sterling made a shocking appearance at Tuesday's playoff game against the Golden State Warriors. And now we're learning more about her complicated relationship with her billionaire husband and her own legal wrangling.
Our national correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM with more. What are we learning about this rather complex situation?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And it gets more complicated, Wolf, because she has been sparred from a lot of -- spared from the scrutiny but now that is changing. We're learning more about her from court documents that we obtained from several of the federal lawsuits that were filed against both her and her husband for alleged housing discrimination. Well, these suits, they were settled out of court, but they pulled back the curtain, exposed accusations against both of them for alleged racist remarks to black and Latino tenants.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): Immediately after her husband, Donald Sterling's, racist rant hit the airwaves, Shelly Sterling stood by her man. Leaving an L.A. steakhouse by his side, she defended him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you a racist, Mr. Sterling?
SHELLY STERLING, WIFE OF DONALD STERLING: No, of course not.
MALVEAUX: But earlier that same day, she reportedly told TMZ, "Our family is devastated by the racist comments made by my estranged husband. My children and I do not share these despicable views or prejudices."
Federal court documents by CNN include accusations to the contrary. In 2007, the Sterlings were sued for housing discrimination. Involving a Los Angeles apartment complex they owned. Tenant Daryl Rhodes stated in this 2009 deposition that, when he asked Mr. Sterling if she would reduce his rent, she replied, "Who do you think you are, you black M-F?"
He also testified that she called him "a black M-F" several times during another exchange.
The court documents reveal Sterling unequivocally denied ever using a racial slur. The Sterlings ended up settling the case for $2.7 million.
Since the racist audiotapes emerged, Shelly Sterling has gotten a pass. While her husband is now banned from showing his face at any NBA event, Shelly got L.A. head coach Doc Rivers' permission to attend Tuesday's game, where she sat out of view in a suite.
DOC RIVERS, HEAD COACH, L.A. CLIPPERS: It's a tough one for Shelly, really. You know, she didn't do anything wrong either and you -- you have compassion for her. MALVEAUX: She even asked him for a favor.
RIVERS: She just wanted the players to know that she told me to tell them that she loved them.
MALVEAUX: But Rivers and the players association have made it clear: they want a clean break from both of them.
Sports attorney David Cornwell says Shelly Sterling has no legal claim over the team.
DAVID CORNWELL, SPORTS ATTORNEY: The decision to remove or terminate the franchise would apply to him and her, as well, even if she was, quote, "a minority owner," at less than a majority interest in the team. This is done.
MALVEAUX: As for Donald Sterling's girlfriend, V. Stiviano, wearing a bizarre face mask. She's revealing ambitions of her own.
V. STIVIANO, DONALD STERLING'S GIRLFRIEND: One day I will become president of the United States of America, and I will change legislation and laws in which (UNIDENTIFIED MALE) modern-day history civil rights movement.
MALVEAUX: So everyone is in the spotlight for now. It will be interesting to see if or when Donald Sterling emerges and whether or not he's going to address those racist remarks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Amazing what the story gets more bizarre. Thanks very much, Suzanne Malveaux.
Let's get some more right now with the former NBA star, Kareem Abdul- Jabbar. He's joining us from Los Angeles. He's behind the film "On the Shoulders of Giants," about the all-black team, the Harlem Ravens, and its role in the civil rights movement. It's a powerful, powerful film. We're also joined by CNN'S Rachel Nichols in New York.
First to you, Kareem. You worked for Donald Sterling. You said you were aware of his track record. You wrote a piece about it. You and others have been suggesting it's taken way too long to punish this guy. So what's going on here?
KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR, FORMER NBC PLAYER: Well, I think the fact that Mr. Sterling understood that his views might not be received very well, gave him the incentive to keep it under wraps, and this recording, kind of like he pulled down the mask, so to speak. And we have this situation that we have.
BLITZER: How surprised were you when you heard those audiotapes?
ABDUL-JABBAR: I wasn't very surprised because of the thing that you mentioned earlier where he was discriminating against people who wanted to rent some of his properties. And the only reason that they couldn't rent the properties were they were the wrong color or wrong ethnicity. That's not what America's supposed to be about.
BLITZER: You know, his estranged wife, Shelly, do you know anything about her?
ABDUL-JABBAR: No. I met her a couple of times. She seems to be a very nice lady, but I have no idea. But this whole idea about what we've gone through, something that I wrote about in TheGreatestTeam.com, it's right there for everybody to see. Some people don't put their views out there unless they feel that they can do it in confidence. And until you get behind closed doors with people, sometimes you don't find out where their hearts really are.
BLITZER: This time we obviously found out a lot about this guy. Rachel, is it possible that the wife, Shelly, could wind up being the owner of the Clippers?
RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: I think David Cornwell is right. It's unlikely that she would end up owning the Clippers. But the question is, is she going have a hand of running this team in the interim?
Doc Rivers has been talking about the fact he doesn't even know who he reports to right now. And she's still involved in the organization, and it's interesting to hear the comment from Doc, saying, "Hey, Shelly didn't do anything wrong." I've got to believe that Doc just doesn't -- isn't aware of some of the information in those lawsuits that Suzanne was talking about, because in those lawsuits in some of the testimony, there's also information from some of the former housing managers in the apartment buildings that Shelly and Donald Sterling owned.
And they talk about the fact that Shelly would come in and pose as a health inspector and then write down the ethnicities of the tenants after knocking on the door and talking to them.
There's also testimony from former housing managers about how she would tell them what kind of tenant that she wanted and she didn't want certain ethnicities, and she didn't want children, things like that. So I think after reading that you get a better idea of who Shelly Sterling really is, as Kareem says, sometimes you don't know until you hear about what people do behind closed doors.
But I've got to tell you, I personally have heard enough about Shelly Sterling. I don't want her anywhere near the team, even in two or three weeks before we decide what the NBA's going to do about divorcing the Clippers from the Sterlings altogether.
BLITZER: And Kareem, the next two or three weeks they have to decide, there are 30 owners. They need 3/4 of them to approve a resolution that would force him to sell the team. That's 23 owners. Do you have any doubt at all, Kareem, that 23 owners will vote that he must sell the team?
ABDUL-JABBAR: I'm pretty sure they're going to vote that way, Wolf, because they don't want his face to be the face of the owners of the league. How can they sell the NBA to people around the world? We have great athletes from every part of the world wanting to come here and play in the NBA. It's a wonderful thing. It say so much about the game and the American way of life. You know, it's a meritocracy. If you've got game, you can come here and play. And you can't have someone like Mr. Sterling with his views as the face of that. So I'm pretty sure they're going to react and do the right thing and try to keep him as far away from the game as they can.
BLITZER: You've been fighting racism for so many years, Kareem. In this latest article you wrote, I'm going to put it up on the screen, a line or two, because it's very powerful what you wrote. "If we're going to be outraged, let's be outraged that we weren't more outraged when his racism was first evident. Instead of being content to punish Sterling and go back to sleep, we need to be inspired to vigilantly seek out, expose and eliminate racism at its first signs."
Go ahead and elaborate a little bit on what you mean.
ABDUL-JABBAR: Well, what I mean is that, as soon as we had the opportunity, Commissioner Silver saw what the problem was and dealt with it immediately. He didn't let any complacency set in. He understood that it was ugly and it was not us. It was not the basketball world, and he wanted to make a statement for all of the people who love the game and for all of the people who love America. Because they're one and the same in this instance. And he was able to really make a great statement as to how we feel, as athletes, and how the NBA family feels about bigotry.
BLITZER: He's just started as the commissioner, Rachel, Adam Silver, February 1 was his first day, even though he'd been working for the NBA for many years. I think he's getting universally applauded for this decision. He didn't mince any words, was tough. He was forceful. He did the right thing. You have this doubt that he will now deliver, the votes will be there. And it could even be unanimous among all the owners to go and force Sterling to sell.
ABDUL-JABBAR: I wouldn't be surprised if it was.
NICHOLS: Yes. And it's amazing how the NBA is turning this from an intensely negative story, which it was over the weekend and for the first few days, to what is becoming a positive story, not only with Adam Silver's handling of the situation, the universally positive response, but now the new idea that the L.A. Clippers are up for sale. Man are there people coming out of the woodwork, saying, "I'd like to buy the Clippers."
Now Wolf, I don't know if you want to put in a bid, because I don't want to, you know, belittle any bid that you want to put in, but I've got to tell you, the biggest bidders that I've heard about, David Geffen, along with Oprah Winfrey, is the latest report. And it would be great to have another minority owner in the league if Oprah was involved in that bid.
Larry Ellison also involved in that team. Of course, they do have to take into account who can put up the most money. You're talking about three of the richest people in America. If they decide to actually bid on this team together.
Last night you had Shelly Sterling sitting in one of the boxes, and they keep going back and forth to her. And we talked about her history. If you could replace that with Oprah and David Geffen and Larry Ellison, I think the NBA would take that P.R., don't you?
BLITZER: You know, it's funny when you think about one ironic moment, maybe it's not that funny, Kareem. Let me get your thoughts on this. If the Milwaukee Bucs sold recently for, what, about $600 million, a relatively small media market like Milwaukee. There's going to be a bidding war for the Clippers. I'm guessing it could go for a billion dollars. The irony, of course, is who's going to get that money? That would be Sterling who paid $12 million for the Clippers back in 1981.
So if Oprah and company and a whole bunch of other hugely wealthy people start bidding for that team, that money in the end winds up in Sterling's pocket.
ABDUL-JABBAR: It will wind up in Sterling's pocket, nothing we can do about that. He owns the team. But I think the league will be a lot better off without someone with his views sitting in their ranks. I think it's worth it for whatever reason to see the end of his reign in our city. It's A -- it was a horrible thing to have to, LIKE, sit through all of these years, knowing some of the things that he did. And to see the end of that, it's worth it.
BLITZER: Kareem, thanks so much for joining us. Kareen Abdul-Jabbar. His documentary, "On the Shoulders of Giants," you're going to have to see. Everyone who hasn't seen it should be looking forward to seeing it. Rachel, we'll have you back in the next hour. We have much more coming up on this story, because the fallout continues.
Coming up, well-armed and well-equipped gunmen continue taking over cities and towns in Eastern Ukraine. Where are they coming from? And can anything stop them.
Plus, worldwide pushback against the company that claims that they have detected debris from Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. Can the claim possibly be right? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's get back to the breaking news. Those wildfires burning out of control in Southern California right now.
CNN's Paul Vercammen once again joining us from Rancho Cucamonga, that's about 40 miles east of downtown L.A.
So what are you seeing now, Paul?
PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, while it did clear up a little, wind still whipping around and they have indeed been the problem all day because they reached gusts up to 80 miles an hour. Right here on Banyon Street, this is where they made their stand. If you look right down this way, you can see some engines headed there. All along here they've been able to guard against these flames, some 800 acres burned so far.
The fire coming out of the hills and then burning down in fingers towards us. So severe that they evacuated a high school, an elementary school, several, I should say, a middle school. Off in the distance you can still see there's little flare-ups right here. You see that the bulldozer did a great job of cutting some fire lines in here and right beyond me is a flood control channel. Cement, rocks do not burn. So this was advantageous to these firefighters as they dug in here.
What's the concern? The drought. We have had such dry, awful weather in California for a few years now and this weather got unseasonably hot here in late April. Tomorrow, another hot day expected. So the firefighters here have been fighting it solely on the ground, about 550 of them digging in structure protection.
As I pointed out before, still not enough of a die-down in the wind yet for helicopters to drop water on the fire or fixed wing aircraft drop any retardant on this blaze -- Wolf.
BLITZER: When do they think that wind will die down to let some aircraft, helicopters, maybe other planes get in there and do something about this?
VERCAMMEN: Well, they were hoping for early evening Pacific Time. This was unique. Sometimes you talk about these California fires and everyone talks about the sundowner winds. Well, this was almost opposite that. We had violent, strong winds right in the middle of the day. So it was almost backwards and that's why they were so up against it for so long.
A fire just came roaring through here, Wolf. It was -- it was just moving at such a quick and rapid pace. But as I said, they did a good job of digging lines and they used all this asphalt and this flood control channel as a defense against it. So they may not need the choppers as desperately as they did around noon but hopefully later on tonight they can get them up in the air and drop some water and some fire retardant on this place.
BLITZER: Let's hope. All right, Paul, we'll get back to you. Paul Vercammen with the breaking news in Southern California.
Other news we're following including some very disturbing new developments in eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian militants seized more cities and towns today. Over and over, we're seeing scenes like this. Uniformed and masked gunmen standing guard at captured government buildings where they've piled up tires and unrolled razor sharp Concertino wire to keep everyone out.
Today's -- today Ukraine's acting president complained his country's security forces are helpless.
Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto who's watching this.
Seems to be getting worse. JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No, no question. And beyond the Ukrainian themselves, the most nervous witnesses to Russian intervention inside Ukraine are the eastern Europeans. They're worried about this expanding beyond Ukraine's borders and today President Obama acknowledging those concerns with a visit to Poland.
This was not on the schedule originally. It's added to a scheduled visit in June to France for D-Day. This of course follows the deployment of additional U.S. troops and aircraft to these NATO allies bordering Ukraine but so far none of these gesture by the U.S. and the West has changed the situation on the ground inside Ukraine.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): In eastern Ukraine, this is the new normal. Pro-Russian militants occupying government buildings, broken windows barricaded from the inside, and masked gunmen patrolling the hallways amid barbed wire and sandbags. And this is just one of dozens of towns and cities in the east no longer under the control of the Kiev government.
Ukrainian leaders have conceded that local police are helpless to confront the militants. And today announced they're putting the Ukrainian army on full combat alert.
OLEKSANDR TURCHYNOV, ACTING UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (Through Translator): It is not a secret that Russia is still massing forces on the northern, eastern, and southern border of Ukraine and that they are ready to invade our territory.
SCIUTTO: In a show of support to Ukraine and to nervous U.S. allies in eastern Europe, Vice President Biden announced the president will travel to Poland in June.
JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT: What Russia needs to know, it cannot, and I believe they do know, have it both ways. If Russia wants to benefit from the United States or it has to respect that order and abide by the rules. Otherwise, it's going to face growing cost and growing isolation.
SCIUTTO: Still, the administration's response has so far underwhelmed Republican lawmakers who introduced legislation today to send $100 million of direct military assistance to Ukraine including anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons and small arms and to vastly expand current economic sanctions to include major banks, energy companies and arms suppliers in Russia.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We are not accusing the administration of doing nothing. What we are saying that nothing they are doing is in any way a break on Vladimir Putin's behavior and for us to refuse to even give them defensive weapons is an outrage. It's a scandal.
SCIUTTO: The American public, however, is far less outraged. The new "Wall Street Journal"/NBC News poll finds that nearly half of Americans surveyed want the U.S. to be less active in international affairs -- you could see those figures there -- 47 percent want it to be less active, only 19 percent more active. About a third happy with the current level of involvement.
And that, you know, seems to be reflected in the policy here but it also seems to be, you know, the Obama foreign policy theory. Right? You heard them talk the other day about hitting singles and doubles, not homeruns. You know, setting reasonable goals as opposed to lofty goals and, you know, trying to see them of course the criticism from Republicans that it's not achieving anything but, you know, it still remains to be seen.
BLITZER: You can't blame the American people for wanting to be more isolationists, if you will, non-interventionist, given the experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan for more than a decade, the cost, the price, the human lives and treasures. It's totally understandable.
SCIUTTO: Two decade-long wars, a lot of blood and treasure.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much. Jim Sciutto reporting.
More on Ukraine coming up in our next hour as well. But up next, we'll check out an Australian company's surprising claim it detected plane wreckage thousands of miles from where searchers are looking for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. They believe possibly it could be that plane. Right or wrong, are they just seeking publicity? What's going on? We'll have full details of that.
Also, our Brian Todd is reporting from high above the tornado damage in Alabama.
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BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Brian Todd flying over some of the worst hit areas in Alabama, some of the areas devastated by the recent round of tornadoes. We're going to give you a unique perspective from the air, just ahead.
BLITZER: New controversy erupting in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Despite skepticism from experts worldwide, officials of an Australian company are standing by their claim of detecting plane wreckage in the Bay of Bengal. That's thousands of miles from the main search area. While they aren't saying it's the missing jet, they are urging officials to take a closer look.
CNN's Anna Coren reports.
ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the search continues for MH-370 in the desolate waters of the Southern Indian Ocean more than seven weeks after the plane's disappearance, a team of scientists from an Australian mining exploration company believe they may have found its location over 5,000 kilometers away.
PAVEL KURSA, MANAGING DIRECTOR, GEORESONANCE: We are not into making theories. It is a scientific proven fact that we guarantee that at that location, there are chemical elements that are part of a plane.
COREN: GeoResonance is convinced that through its high-tech spectral imaging gathered from satellites and planes, it has found the remains of an aircraft in the Bay of Bengal 190 kilometers off the coast of Bangladesh.
DAVID POPE, DIRECTOR, GEORESONANCE: Amazement is quite the word that was totally incredible when we saw the results that we believe to be the wreckage of an aircraft. It was just incredible.
COREN: Their search began four days after the plane's disappearance. Testing for elements such as aluminum, titanium and copper found in a Boeing 777. Working off the plane's last radar detection, they searched the northern corridor, covering over two million square kilometers until they found the match.
Some analysts are skeptical of the technology.
KEITH J. MASBACK, UNITED STATES GEOSPATIAL INTELLIGENCE FOUNDATION: I think the most fundamental reason for the skepticism is they talk about multispectral imaging. And there is no multispectral imagine that anyone I've talked to that I'm aware of that's going to penetrate a thousand meters under the ocean.
COREN: Director David Pope says he stands by their findings but is not prepared to divulge their methodology.
POPE: There's a lot of valuable (INAUDIBLE) brought up over the last 30 years. It's our intellectual property and we plan on keeping it in private.
COREN: No one at GeoResonance is claiming that this, in fact, MH-370, but the imaging of the same area conducted three days before the plane disappeared turned up none of the elements. Their final report was sent two weeks ago to Malaysian Airlines and all countries involved in the search. But despite repeated efforts to make contact, no one responded.
(On camera): GeoResonance, based here in Adelaide, denies this is a publicity seeking exercise, saying it never wanted to go public with its report. But when the Malaysian, Chinese and Australian governments failed to respond, that's when they went to the media, believing that it's their moral obligation to the families of the victims of MH-370.
POPE: If our lead is going to prove correct, then that's fantastic for the families to bring closure. If not, let us discount it and they can move on.
COREN (voice-over): Something the families and relatives of the 239 people on board are so desperate to do.
Anna Coren, CNN, Adelaide, Australia.
BLITZER: And just ahead, we're following some other breaking news. A ground stop at LAX. We're getting new information, stand by, what's going on in Los Angeles.
Also, a heartbreaking look at the tornado devastation from above. Revealing the jaw-dropping extent of the devastation that killed dozens of people.
And more breaking news. We're going back live to Pensacola, Florida. Seeing some of the worst flooding in that state in memory. We'll get the latest. The governor of Florida, Rick Scott, standing by live.
BLITZER: Some major breaking news coming out of Los Angeles. You're looking at live pictures from LAX. The Los Angeles International Airport. Where there's been a ground stop.
Rene Marsh has been watching this story for us.
Rene, what's going on?
RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I just got off the phone with the FAA. And here's what we know. Very little bit of information at this point but we are seeing that ground stop there because of a problem, a computer problem, a technical issue at the L.A. Center and essentially that is not at LAX but it is a center, a facility that handles safely spacing out the aircrafts at high altitude.
So they're having a computer problem there. In order to address the computer problem, they're essentially just slowing down and stopping traffic because the problem is you want to be able to -- you don't want to have a situation where you can't safely space these planes apart. So that's why we're seeing that ground stop while they deal with, again, this computer issue which is at a facility in Los Angeles.
Again, they deal with spacing out these planes at high altitude. That's information we have now.
BLITZER: And this air traffic control center in Los Angeles, it could impact other cities as well. And we know Burbank, for example, there's been a stoppage in Burbank. But maybe Vegas, Phoenix, other areas that are controlled by this L.A.-based control center.
Is that what you're hearing?
MARSH: Again, FAA not giving us a lot of information. So we do know that there are some other airports that they're seeing traffic stops. We know there's also a lot of weather around. So we have to really go through that to determine if it's weather or this issue.
BLITZER: All right. Miles O'Brien is here. You're working your sources, too. What are you hearing?
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, it's -- we need to understand what we're a little bit about what we're talking about these centers, just so people understand. When you talk about the centers, that is the largest swath of space. And that's covering the on-route system, the higher altitude as you say. As you get closer to an airport, you get into what's called TRACON, it's a terminal radar.
And that's the regional area. And then you get down to the tower radar. If the radar fails in these big regional swaths, it has a huge ripple effect all throughout the region. It might be what we're seeing here in this case. As it gets closer and closer to the airport, the failures, the implications and the failures become more localized.
So we should just be watching this. And, you know, whenever you talk about computers and radar, they're intertwined. We've been talking about that with the Malaysian airliner a lot. That the transponder airline that is on there that provides the controllers the information about where the aircraft is headed --
BLITZER: If there's a stoppage at L.A., there's a domino effect all over the country.
O'BRIEN: Even if it's just L.A., there's a domino effect.
O'BRIEN: But this could be a regional thing which could have much greater implications.
BLITZER: All right, guys --
MARSH: But we do want to say they feel as if they're working out this issue. They tell me that they hope to have it resolved soon. That could be an hour, two, three hours from now. But there's --
BLITZER: That could really disrupt traffic across the country.
BLITZER: All right. We'll stay on top of this story, guys. Thanks very much.
Other breaking news we're following, deadly flooding inundating parts of Florida, triggered by unbelievable amounts of nonstop rain. We'll talk about it with the governor of Florida, Rick Scott.