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Battling ISIS; Plane Threats; Texas Flooding. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 25, 2015 - 16:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Twelve people in Texas right now lost in the floods.

I'm John Berman, and this is THE LEAD.

The national lead, 400 homes torn from their foundations, three people confirmed dead from the floodwaters in Texas. There's already so much water on the ground that even the slightest of showers could mean more devastation, and there is more rain on the way.

The world lead. The war to stop ISIS, it seems to be coming undone. Now Iran says the U.S. failed to stop the terrorists, while the U.S. secretary of defense blames the Iraqis and says they simply don't have the will to fight.

Also in national, two F-15s flying wing to wing with an Air France jet, escorting it to New York's JFK airport. So, what prompted this military welcoming party and could other planes be in danger?

This was the poignant scene at Arlington National Cemetery, as a nation honors those who gave their last full measure of devotion to this country.

Welcome to THE LEAD, everyone. I'm John Berman, in today for Jake Tapper.

And on this Memorial Day, there is a serious weather situation threatening millions in the South. It is bad and it could get worse, severe weather assaulting Texas this weekend, record-setting rain swelling into savage floods that washed away entire towns and claimed at least three lives.

One of those killed has been identified as Captain Jason Farley, a firefighter in Claremore, Oklahoma. Farley gave his life rescuing children from their flooded-out birthday party. Rescue officials in Texas right now are trying to find 12 people lost in the chaos, among the missing, a Texas mother, Laura McComb, and her two children. McComb's father told a local television station that his daughter and grandchildren were staying at a river house swept away by floodwaters last night. They have not been seen or heard from since.

Our Ed Lavandera has the latest from San Marcos, Texas.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Central Texas town in the middle of the night, for thousands along the Blanco River, it was a night of terror.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God. Stop, stop, stop. He needs to get out.

LAVANDERA: One person was killed here in Central Texas and nearly 400 homes were washed away. The floodwaters cut a winding, destructive path through the town of Wimberley and San Marcos, Texas. Twelve people are believed to be missing. They were part of a family gathering for Memorial Day weekend at a river house.

Search-and-rescue teams are pushing through the debris along the riverbanks looking for the families, which also include small children.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Never did we in our wildest imagination think about the wall of water that would come down and do the destruction. It came down rather quickly, and despite our efforts to inform the public and to warn people to evacuate and take precautions, many people did not have time to do that.

LAVANDERA: David Marmaleho (ph) and his daughter, Mary Jane (ph), are cleaning up the damage left by that wall of water. They know they're lucky to be alive. They woke up to ankle-deep floodwaters rushing into their home. By the time they woke everyone up and got out of the house, it was already knee-deep.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Animals went running everywhere. It was like the scariest thing I have ever seen. I have never seen it so high, the water. But it was within of matter of like two to three minutes, the water was from ankles to your knees.

LAVANDERA: They didn't have time to grab their dog, Oreo (ph). But when they came back to the house floodwaters receded, they found Oreo alive.


BERMAN: All right, I want to go Ed Lavandera right now, who joins us by telephone from Texas.

Ed, what's the latest down there?


Well, the scene here, as many people are starting to clean up and try to clean up, but the real concern is that the rainstorms continue to push through the area, which obviously will not let the floodwaters really recede heavily.

But we're -- this is where the Blanco River is just through the tree line here. And as you look at the bridge, you can see the force of the weight of the trees that were brought down by the floodwaters wiping out parts of the guardrails onto the bridge. That means the water came up about over this bridge.

When you consider just how dramatic that is, it's a good 40-foot drop to where the Blanco River is there, and the sheer force with which this water and all of the damage, debris that came rushing through here, and we have seen search-and-rescue teams combing up and down through that -- through this area looking for those 12 people that are missing.


They have been doing that all along this stretch of the Blanco River. And here, John, you can see the collection where a lot of this debris was forced out of the banks of the river, up on to the sides of the riverbanks here, far from where the river is normally supposed to be running, so a very dangerous situation and a scary situation for the thousands of people who were caught in the middle of the night in this flash flood trying to save themselves from the onslaught that was coming downriver here, John.

BERMAN: And the pictures are simply stunning. And we saw some aerial footage there as well.

What is the split right now from officials there? How much searching are they doing, and how much preparing are they doing? Because I understand there could be some more rain, and any rain could be very, very dangerous.

LAVANDERA: Well, the word now is clearly out.

And given the intensity of the rain, it really kind of just depends on how much more rainfall we see falling here in the next, you know, several days. A lot of the creeks and the -- the small little tributaries that lead into these larger rivers are obviously very filled now. And that is of concern, because it won't take much more to cause that.

But the waters, compared to where they were 36 hours ago, have really dropped dramatically. The Blanco River, you might be able to see it there through the trees as its winding its way down there, is probably a good 30 feet below this particular bridge where we're at here in the town of Wimberley.

So, it would take a lot more rain and a lot more flash floods for all of that to rise to the levels that we have already seen. But those flash flood warnings are still in effect for this area, so many people on guard and concerned about what these storms will bring. But when you look at the radar, it's a dramatic picture of just how much more rain is supposed to be coming this way -- John.


Ed Lavandera for us in Wimberley, Texas, thanks so much, Ed.


BERMAN: I want to speak now to the mayor of San Marcos, Texas, Daniel Guerrero. He joins me by the phone.

Mr. Mayor, thank you so much for joining us.

I know you have a lot on your hands right now. Let me ask right off the start here, what's the status in the search for these 12 missing people?

DANIEL GUERRERO, MAYOR OF SAN MARCOS, TEXAS: Well, to begin with, we thank you for the opportunity to be able to share information with our communities and residents to all out -- throughout Central Texas.

In regards to those 12 folks, the efforts are still ongoing. We're certainly at the same time trying to ensure that we're mindful of the safety of those folks and personnel that are out doing the search themselves.

So, at this point, we do not have any aerial -- helicopters in the air, because we are currently in a rain scenario. We have had volunteers. We have had staff that have also been out searching for folks in various areas of the community.

BERMAN: So the current weather situation is hampering the search efforts?

GUERRERO: Certainly.

We will continue to search. We just have to use different strategies, as opposed to the typical aerial-type strategies that would be used with a helicopter or things of that nature.

BERMAN: Mr. Mayor, what about identifying the 12 missing people right now? Because we had heard reports that some of them were children. We have specific reports that a mother and two children are missing.


GUERRERO: That particular report, from my understanding, is something that's taken place earlier in the event.

I think the larger of the group that we're still looking to account for, we do have strong leads on information regarding where they were residing, where they were at during the storm event itself. And I can't really respond, at least at this point, in regards to numbers of adults vs. children.

I just don't have that information. My first-responders may have more detailed information in regards to that particular question.

BERMAN: And we just took a look at the weather map, and it looks ugly. Look, there's a lot of bright colors, a lot of red. There could be more rain, at least an inch or two headed to the area where you are, not the torrential downpours of nine, 10 inches we saw, but, still, there isn't much place to put this water.

How are you preparing, or are you prepared for the possibility of even more flooding? GUERRERO: We are. We are.

In fact, we have throughout the -- since the end of the last event, encouraging folks that if they're going to return to their homes to evaluate, to assess damage, recognize that the likelihood is that we were and have been anticipating additional showers, upwards of the area of about two inches, that would be coming in at this time, and certainly that has been the case.

And it's currently raining right now. We have been informing people throughout the community through social media, through regular media outlets. We have personnel that are out in the communities as well just encouraging people to stay away from low-lying areas, the areas that are typically flooded.

And, as you mentioned, the ground is already heavily saturated. So, to be able to take on additional rainfall is -- it's just not going to be a good scenario for us. So, any additional rain, it could be hazardous. And we're encouraging people to demonstrate quite a bit of caution.

BERMAN: Yes. Well, we will warn people right here, right now, Mayor Daniel Guerrero.

GUERRERO: Absolutely.

BERMAN: Please be careful in that area, in low-lying areas, as more rain is headed that way.

Mr. Mayor, thank you so much for being with us and good luck in the days ahead.

GUERRERO: Thank you very much.

BERMAN: All right, a scare on a passenger plane headed for New York, fighter jets scrambled after a threat was made against the plane, and now a source is telling CNN that several threatening phone calls have been received today regarding flights.

We will have that story next.


BERMAN: All right. Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Breaking news in our other national lead: major security scares in the air and on the ground on this Memorial Day. First, police responding to a suspicious car on Capitol Hill with a pressure cooker and a propane tank inside. And the Air Force scrambled jets to intercept a passenger plane headed here to New York City.

CNN's Tom Foreman watching both of these situations.

Tom, what can you tell us?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, these two Air Force F-16s raced out over the Atlantic to intercept this international flight making sure they stuck right with it up until the moment that it touched down amid a good many other jitters on this busy holiday weekend.


FOREMAN (voice-over): Air France Flight 22 from Paris was escorted in by U.S. fighter jets after authorities say an anonymous caller warned of chemical weapons onboard. At New York's JFK airport, passengers were held two hours as FBI agents searched the plane and found nothing, issuing a statement saying, "The plane has landed and has deboarded. There were no incidents or hazards reported onboard the flight by either the passengers or its crew. The plane has been cleared."

This passenger said for the longest time, he had no idea there was a problem.

EYLON BENZEEB, PASSENGER ON AIR FRANCE FLIGHT: In the air, nothing. In the air, didn't feel nothing. When we landed, and saw the -- that this is when we know that something is wrong.

REPORTER: There was no discussion that these are two fighter jets that are escorting you.

BENZEEB: No. Nothing.

FOREMAN: There were other scares in the air, too.


FOREMAN: This was another threatened flight coming into Newark from Spain. Authorities say they received threats against multiple flights and security scrambled to deal with some planes coming from Europe and the Middle East, landing in numerous American cities, including New York, New Jersey, Buffalo and Atlanta. Yet, searches have so far turned up nothing.

Still, it was enough to rattle nerves with more than 37 million Americans traveling over this holiday weekend. A ten-year record, according to AAA. In Washington, D.C., amid huge crowds, police grew worried over the weekend about a suspicious car parked near the Capitol. They say that smelled of gasoline and contain a propane tank and pressure cooker.

But once the bomb squad destroyed the cooker, investigators determined it was never intended to do any harm.


FOREMAN: In retrospect, all of this may seem overly reactionary, especially to people who's flight plans are delayed or who have their holidays erupted. But authorities say, look, they just really don't have any choice in this day and time but to take every threat seriously, because they never know when one really might be serious -- John.

BERMAN: The caution is quite understandable. Tom Foreman, thank you so much.

Turning now to our politics lead -- just when you thought it couldn't get bigger, the 2016 presidential field will expand even more this week. Expected to declare candidacies -- on the Republican side, are former Pennsylvania senator and previous candidate, Rick Santorum; former New York Governor George Pataki. And for the Democrats, a potential challenger to Hillary Clinton. The former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley is set to announce his decision on Saturday.

I want to bring in CNN's senior political correspondent, Brianna Keilar.

And, Brianna, you know, there are so many Republicans are entering the race. It's a big field, a whole lot of experience there. Is the party concerned it's too big?

[16:20:00] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They are in some ways, John, because even though a crowded field means that candidates get this time to sharpen their political skills, it's also a conundrum for debate organizers, how do they fit everyone on one stage, maybe they just can't, as we learned.

And more important, the longer this competition for resources, money and then time to make an impact drags on, the Republican nominee may find that they're at a disadvantage in the general election.


KEILAR (voice-over): A packed Republican primary field about to get even more crowded. So far, six candidates have already declared, and four more are expected to follow suit over the next two weeks.

First up, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who has an announcement event set for Wednesday. The runner up to Mitt Romney in 2012 is encouraging Republicans to continue their tradition of going with the second-place finisher from the previous cycle.

RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER PENNSYLVANIA SENATOR: Republican parties are conservative. We stick with tradition. I would encourage you to do that in this election.

KEILAR: Former New York Governor George Pataki will make his presidential ambitions clear Thursday in the first in the nation primary state of New Hampshire.

GEORGE PATAKI (R), FORMER NEW YORK GOVERNOR: When I look at the country and the world today I think our country is at greater risk of losing our freedom that are an in the time in my lifetime.

KEILAR: Pataki and Santorum are likely to be joined next week by South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and former Texas Governor Rick Perry, which would bring the official GOP tally to 10, and that doesn't include potential front-runners Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, plus Chris Christie, John Kasich and Bobby Jindal and possibly others.

ANA NAVARRO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Everybody's got a right who quarters to run and, we'll just ride this one out with 15, 16, a football team-worth of candidates starting off.


KEILAR: And watching all of this play out is, of course, Hillary Clinton. She and her husband Bill took part in the New Castle, New York, Memorial Day parade today. Their first public event together since she declared. She's on to a southern swing, south, South Carolina this week and Bernie Sanders, who is a candidate. He's holding his kickoff rally tomorrow.

And then, John, former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley announcing his presidential plans Saturday in Baltimore. So, the Democratic field getting a little more crowded but still, it's pretty roomy.

BERMAN: I say bring them on. Good for business.


BERMAN: Brianna Keilar, thanks so much.

Great to have you here with us. We'll see you a little bit on "THE SITUATION ROOM".

Coming up, police say he could not have acted alone, but are they any closer to finding out who helped the man who allegedly murdered four people in a mansion just blocks from the vice president's residence? New details on just who police are questioning, next.

Plus -- not exactly a vote of confidence. Defense Secretary Ash Carter accuses Iraqi forces of running scared. So what's plan B to fight ISIS?


BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In national news, police say he had help, and today, the search continues for more possible suspects in the brutal torture and murders of a Washington, D.C. family and their housekeeper in their mansion near the vice president's home.

Daron Wint, the only man charged in this quadruple murder, is being held without bail after U.S. marshals nabbed him last week.

CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown is live in Washington with new details -- Pamela.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, witness interviews by police are raising even more suspicions that Daron Wint was not acting alone. And they're also raising new questions about the family's assistant.


BROWN (voice-over): Today, D.C. police are hunting for more suspects who allegedly helped Daron Wint pull off the brutal slayings of the Savapoulos family and their housekeeper. Questions about who was in this video fleeing the scene after the family's stolen Porsche was torched. Police saying in a court affidavit that a witness saw the Porsche driven erratically out of Washington by someone with short well-groomed hair. A very different description from Wint who appeared in court Friday with medium-length dreadlocks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a little difficult to believe one person to be responsible for that carnage.

BROWN: Deepening the mystery, court documents show that Savapoulos' assistant changed his story several times when questioned by police, altering details about how he dropped off the $40,000 at the mansion just hours before the house was torched.

DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Police are trained to notice inconsistencies in a story, and at this early stage, when a very important witness has some inconsistencies, even in his initial interviews, you better believe that police are going to take a harder look at that person.

BROWN: According to police, the assistant changed his story about when his boss contacted him to pick up the money, revise details about the car he left the money in at the mansion, and admitted he lied by not initially telling police the cash was in a red bag. Police said the assistant texted an unidentified person a picture of that bag with money inside, just four hours later, the family's home went up in flames.

CEVALLOS: Is it possible that you misremember putting money in a manila envelope as opposed to red bags? It's possible.

But it starts to become less possible when just a few hours ago you texted a picture of that same bag. As these inconsistencies build up and comparing them against actual documentary evidence, and by that I mean the photograph, these inconsistencies are going to build up and police are going to look into it further. It absolutely raises an antenna.


BROWN: And as for the five people who the U.S. marshals say were with Wint when arrested including his brother, we are told by D.C. police that they are no longer in custody, but that does not mean they're off the hook. We're told, John, the investigation into anyone who has been around Wint recently is still very active.

And I should mention we spoke to Wint's father who says Daron's brother was with him because he was helping him turn himself in. That's the story coming from Daron Wint's father tonight -- John.

BERMAN: Seems we're left with new questions every day in this case.

Pamela Brown, thank you so much.

Inn our world lead: ISIS terrorists slaughtering hundreds, including children. Most of the victims beheaded. And now Defense Secretary Ash Carter is telling us in an exclusive interview that Iraqi troops lack the will to fight the terror group. That's next.