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Atlanta Bus Crash; Tornado Terror; Alabama Tornado; Surviving The Storm

Aired March 02, 2007 - 10:00   ET


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everybody. I'm Betty Nguyen.
T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm T.J. Holmes. Tony and Heidi are off today.

NGUYEN: Spend a second hour in the NEWSROOM this morning and stay informed. Here's what we have on the rundown for you.

HOLMES: A baseball team heading to a tournament when tragedy strikes. Their bus hurdles off an overpass and on to an Atlanta freeway.

NGUYEN: Also in the south, tornado deaths and destruction. You see it right there. Small towns asking why, struggling to comprehend the challenges ahead.

HOLMES: And we're eyeing Wall Street this morning. The bulls closing out a bumping and bruising week. We're 30 minutes into the trading day on Friday, March 2nd, and you are in the CNN NEWSROOM.

HOLMES: We are covering two major stories this hour. The first unfolding right now in Atlanta. A bus carrying a college baseball team careened off a bridge and crashed on to an interstate. At least six people are dead, another 22 are hurt. We're going to go live to CNN's Don Lemon, who is near the scene of just a horrible accident.

Don, give us the latest from down there.

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, horrible, T.J., is an understatement any time you have six people who have died from a bus accident. These folks were on their way to a baseball tournament in Florida. They're from Bluffton University in Bluffton, Ohio, which is near Cleveland.

Now we are told this happened shortly before dawn, I guess about 5:30/5:40 in the morning. This bus driver was headed south on I-75. He was in the HOV lane. But then somehow got into the exit lane. And then instead of either turning left or right, those are the two options when you get off that exit ramp, he went instead straight and right over the ramp and through the barricade there.

Let me show you just exactly what's happening on the scene now. What's happening right now. Pardon, we're digital technology here.

That's the bus right here. They're trying to get that bus out of here. They have moved it, I guess, about 100, 200 feet since it was turned over on its side. They righted it and moved it just a short time ago. And they're also trying to get the lanes open here because I-75 is a major artery that feeds Atlanta. It goes from downtown and it serves the perimeter, which is out to the suburbs here.

But this morning, we're being told by eyewitnesses and also an "Atlanta Journal Constitution" newspaper reporter who was on the scene very early here this morning, that he at first thought it was a tractor-trailer. He was in traffic right behind the bus and then came up on the accident shortly after it happened.

He's saying that he saw, when he arrived on the scene, he saw the injured getting out of an escape hatch, an emergency escape hatch from the top of that bus. And they were bloodied. They were disheveled. They were cold. They didn't know what was going on.

Some of them laid down on the interstate and on the overpass here. They were asking for blankets because, again, because they were cold. And then very shortly he said, within three to four minutes afterwards, emergency workers began to show up, ambulances, rescue people and started getting those people, the rest of the people who were trapped inside the bus, getting them out of the bus and then take those folks to the hospital.

But again, six people here -- it was sadly videoed. As I walked up, I saw the bodies, the rescue area, the triage area, which was under the overpass here. Those six bodies of the dead that were lined up there on the interstate. Also when I got here several hours ago, they were -- some of the luggage had spilled out from the luggage rack under the bus and was strewn about across the overpass and also on the interstate. So they were getting that luggage and taking it back to their rightful owners.

A press conference just a short time ago at the hospital was saying that several people were taken to Grady Hospital. That's a hospital here in the Atlanta area that treats head injuries, a triage area, or at least a trauma unit there. And our very own Sanjay Gupta was called in to make sure that the folks there were taken care of, if there were any major head injuries there. The press conference a short time ago said that there weren't any major head injuries. That was the good news out of all of this.

But again, here at the scene, six people died from this bus accident earlier this morning. They righted the bus I guess about 45 minutes ago and they're trying to load it on to that flat-bed trailer to try to get the interstate back open and I guess to gather any evidence from that bus that they might be able to gather or garner from that.

Not sure if the bus driver survived in all of this. But he would be the key person to find out exactly what happened. Why he might have gone off the interstate, on to the exit ramp. And instead of turning right, turning left.

We're going to go back -- pardon, again, this is happening right now. This is that bus that's leaving I-75 here on the back of that flatbed truck here on I-75 at Northside Drive in Atlanta.

That's the latest from here. T.J. and Betty, I'm going to toss it back to you in the studio.

HOLMES: All right, Don, thank you so much, reporting from that horrible scene of that accident. And, yes, a live picture there of that bus, finally, after all these hours we've been seeing it laying on its side, and finally being taken away and certainly opening up that main artery, as Don said, I-75. A major artery through downtown Atlanta. But that bus being taken away. And certainly an investigation and a lot more questions to be answered.

But, Don, thank you so much.

NGUYEN: Hopefully we can answer some more of these questions by going to Grady Memorial Hospital here in Atlanta and CNN's Drew Griffin.

Most of the students were taken there, Drew, as you well know. But as for the three in critical condition, do you know any more information about them?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We really don't, Betty, other than two of them went into surgery and are now out of surgery. But we don't know the state of them, other than they're listed in critical condition. Another, the third critical patient here, was waiting -- that was about an hour ago -- for an ICU table. But that patient was up and alert and talking with doctors. Of the other 16, all the injuries described there as mild to moderate. All of them being held together and all of them holding up fairly well.

But this hospital and other hospitals in Atlanta really taxed this morning. In fact, so many patients came in to this hospital at one time, Betty, that they were transported by a city bus. Here's Dr. Eric Ossmann describing it. He's the head of EMS here. Describing the scene as he pulled up and what kind of situation they had on hand.


DR. ERIC OSSMANN, CHIEF OF EMS, GRADY HOSPITAL: I think when we arrived on scene, Atlanta Fire was in the process of extricating some of the patients from the bus, that were eventually transported to the hospital. So, you know, when you're dealing with an event like this, you have an enormity of responsibilities to address. You know, Atlanta Fire did an outstanding job of getting people out of the bus and into the triage area. And then, from that point, it was really a matter of deciding who was critically injured, who was not and then making a decision on what destination of hospital they would go to.


GRIFFIN: All of the patients here, Betty, are students. They're all male students. And they're in the process of contacting their family members back in Ohio or wherever they are from, from this college, and trying to coordinate how they will get out of this hospital. It doesn't sound like the 16 will be staying in the hospital.

As for the other three, we're expecting an update on that in about an hour from now. But just a side note, the doctor here, Dr. Leon Haley (ph), said surprisingly, these students emotionally are doing very well under the circumstances, aware of the fact that six people on that bus did not make it. He said, they're doing surprisingly well.


NGUYEN: Yes, it is amazing to hear and again I think it's important to note that all 19 at that hospital are students. We have not heard about the bus driver or that person's condition at this hour.

I do want to let you know, too, maybe you can pass this on to the students there, Drew. AirTran is offering free flights to the families of those involved in this bus accident so that they can reunite with their loves ones. So that's a bit of good information that's come out of all of this. It's such a tragic story that we're following today.

Drew, thank you for that.

HOLMES: And more now on those players that were on the bus. I got a team photo here to show you. We don't -- a lot of us don't know these young men. But after hearing about what they've been going through and now getting to see their faces. This is from Bluffton University, located south of Toledo, Ohio.

The team was on its way to Florida for a tournament when this happened. They were scheduled to take part in that tournament, which was in Ft. Myers. We do expect a press conference the next hour from the university. Expecting it actually at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time. We will monitor that, keep an eye on that.

Well, we heard from a report there at Bluffton not long ago that certainly families and friends and everybody's reaching out, trying to get information. And these were young men who spent pretty much every hour of ever day today and that's often the case with college teams, you spend so much time in class together and then in practice together. So a tightknit group, no doubt, that's been effected by this.

And also, as Betty just mentioned, AirTran now offering free flight to the family of the members of that team. Those family members have a number here they can call. We will flash it back up on the screen for you. It's 1-800-AIRTRAN. But that's 1-800-247-8726. And you should ask for the Bluffton University Coordinator. This special line is being set up. Again, it's 1-800-247-8726 and ask for the Bluffton University Coordinator and they will get you set up so those families, several families certainly now, certainly probably trying to make their way to Atlanta to check on their loved ones.

Also this battered bus we're seeing here is finally being moved away from the accident scene. Our crews are gathering info now at the hospitals in Atlanta. Piedmont and also Grady Memorial. Two hospitals that are serving these young men.

Atlanta PD also expected to update us on this accident. That press conference we're also expecting at 11:00 Eastern. Of course, we talked about the other, Bluffton University, press conference is at 11:00 Eastern. We're going to monitor both of those and certainly be bringing you bits and pieces live as we get that. So stay here with us for complete coverage all morning on this tragedy here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

NGUYEN: Well, certainly, another major story that we're following. Tornado season still weeks away, but the reality of its ferocity unfolding now across the southern United States.

This is what the storm looked like as it barreled into Enterprise, Alabama. By the time the winds died, this is a city changed forever. The death toll is climbing this morning. Eight confirmed dead in the high school, two other fatalities nearby. The storm then plowed into southern Georgia. Tornadoes there killed at least nine people.

The hospital in Americus, Georgia, among the buildings badly damaged. Now it forced that hospital to shut down, but only after treating people injured from that storm. Can you just imagine the chaos there?

Well, the extent of the destruction from the storms in south Georgia becoming more apparent by the hour this morning. Let's get you straight to CNN's Jeanne Meserve who joins us from Americus, Georgia, where a lot of the damage, as we can see, very evident behind you, Jeanne.


At 9:15 last night, that was a house. By about 9:20, it looked like that, a pile of lumber. That's just one of about 100 houses that the sheriff said has been damaged in the northeastern part of this city of Americus.

You can see right here to my right, as we come around a little bit, how the roof has been just taken off this optometrist office that was here. Just devastating damage there. The guy who owns the place says he's been in town for 38 years. He has never, ever seen anything quite like that.

If we come on up to the street here, this is a fairly busy street here on any day. But it doesn't usually have this kind of pedestrian traffic. People are just coming up and down here marveling with horror, if you can marvel with horror, at what this tornado did to their city.

You can see the trees over there which were just shaved off. And beyond them, the hospital. This is the Sumter Regional Hospital. There were more than 50 patients in there last night that had to be moved by bus and by ambulance to four other hospitals in the area. A couple of those people critically ill. We're told that it was rough, it was difficult, but everybody made it out, everybody was stable when that evacuation was completed.

But the city is already trying to recover. We can hear the sound of chain saws. There are people working right down there. You can see the power lines over here. They're down. But there are already power companies in town working on them.

Up in the parking lot of the hospital, we've see dumpsters being placed within the last 15 minutes. We've seen backhoes coming in, starting to move tree stumps that are in the way. We've even seen some of the cars that are so badly damaged here being hauled away.

I have to say, though, the damage is really extensive. We took a bit of a walk up the street. There are a couple of big box stores up there. Serious structural damage. Parts of the roofs gone.

Really just an incredible task here that they're going to have to recover in terms of the physical infrastructure, and that doesn't even mention the people. In this county, two people died. In the state of Georgia, nine died. This was an incredibly devastating night.


NGUYEN: Well, Jeanne, let's talk a little bit about the people that are trying to recover from all of this because I understand the headquarters of the local American Red Cross is there in Americus, Georgia. And, in fact, that building was hit by the storm, causing them to lose their disaster trailers, their lights, their generators, all of which would have been used to respond to this disaster.

MESERVE: That's what we've heard. And, of course, the hospital as well. I mean when do you need a hospital, when you have this kind of disaster hit your community. And they had to shut down. They simply could not accept any patients and had to get rid of the ones they had.

Now they've set up a couple of clinics at shelters here in town to try and treat people with minor injuries. But this is the last thing you need when you've got a disaster on your hands


NGUYEN: Absolutely. The difficulties there today.

Jeanne, thank you for bringing that to us live.

HOLMES: And in Alabama, search crews worked through the night. They scoured the rubble for Enterprise High School for any victims who may have been trapped. CNN's Susan Roesgen is in this southern Alabama town that has been hit and hit hard.

Hello to you again, Susan.


It looks now this morning as if the emergency management team has just now wrapped up a third search of the high school. A third sweep just to make sure that nobody could still be trapped inside. And apparently they don't believe anyone is still inside because they've moved out a lot of heavy equipment that they were using to try to remove large chunks of the concrete roof. That's the big issue here. The roof collapsed, the concrete roof collapsed onto the floor and they were concerned that perhaps there were more people trapped underneath that roof.

I talked to one of the students here who survived the tornado. He said that he was in that one hallway where apparently the eight students died. He said that they were in that hallway. These students had done exactly as they had been told. They had their backs up against the hallway. They had their knees up to their chins. They had their arms over their heads.

And then suddenly they heard a loud noise. It got very dark in that hallway. The student told me, the next thing he knew, he looked up and he could see the sky.

Now immediately they started brushing chunks of debris off themselves. Right now a helicopter's going over head. That may disrupt the sound here for a second. I can't tell if it's a rescue helicopter or perhaps a media helicopter.

But in any cause, this student told me that he was very upset because right away the students who were able to get up, T.J., started helping remove pieces of the concrete off of the students who were on the floor. And then a staff member said there's a gas leak, everybody out. And he said he was very upset that he wasn't able to stay and try to lift more of that concrete and perhaps try to save some of the students who were trapped.

So a lot of stunned students here. And I've talked to parents as well who have just sort of come to look at what they've been through, to look at the damage, to talk about it and to try to sort out what happened to them here yesterday.


HOLMES: All right. A lot of sorting out to be done. Susan Roesgen for us there.

Thank you so much, Susan.

NGUYEN: And that storm system that just blew through and caused all that destruction yesterday is still making its way across the U.S. Chad Myers joins us now from the Weather Center with the latest on that.

Hi, Chad.


NGUYEN: Speaking of those folks who were hit hard yesterday, we understand the president was going to be visiting some of the areas that were affected by those storms.

HOLMES: Don't know specifically. But certainly I don't know if Enterprise, which it certainly got hit hard, Enterprise, Alabama, where that high school is, and Americus, Georgia, where the hospital got hit hard, don't know specifically if those will be on his list of places to stop, but certainly just the general area, certainly a wide area where a lot of damage, a lot of people affected. But President Bush plans to visit those areas that were hit hard by a tornado. We're expecting him to visit tomorrow.

NGUYEN: And a total of 20 people have been killed as a result of those storms. A lot of them, though, who survived are bruised, battered and simply scared. We're going to talk to a mom who was checking on her son at Enterprise, Alabama, High School just as that tornado struck. She was pulled to safety. Her son buried in the rubble. We're going to hear from both of them right here in the NEWSROOM.

HOLMES: Also a battered bus finally being moved from an accident scene. A horrific accident scene. Our crews gathering information now at Atlanta hospitals. Atlanta PD, we're expected to hear from them to update us on this tragedy. A bus carrying a college baseball team plunged off an overpass and onto a busy highway here in Atlanta. Complete CNN coverage of this all morning long right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

NGUYEN: Also, a flashy life in front of the cameras. Well, the same in death. Anna Nicole Smith laid to rest this morning, a Bahamas funeral in the CNN NEWSROOM.

HOLMES: And a big manhunt maybe a cute teen hunt, a teenage hunt, the Barbie hunts, whatever you want to call it, is over, at least that's what police are saying in suburban Atlanta. The Barbie Bandits are now facing justice. We'll see if they look that good in a courtroom. That's ahead in the CNN NEWSROOM.


HOLMES: And we are continuing to follow this major developing and just horrific story out of Atlanta where a bus, a charter bus, you see it there. That bus was carrying a load of college baseball players. A baseball team from Bluffton, Ohio, making their way through Atlanta.

There's the picture, the team picture there. They were heading to Florida for a tournament when it appears that the bus driver got confused a bit about the roads here in Atlanta, took an exit ramp he didn't know he had taken and plunged off an overpass and on to a busy, busy highway, I-75, that is a major artery that cuts through downtown Atlanta. At least six people killed, another 22 injured.

Here is that animation of what possibly could have happened as you cut through Atlanta here. The HOV lane is what he was in, which is on the left. That exits on the left as well and it takes you right up the middle there, as you see, and it's possible that you could still think you were on the highway. As you follow that arrow there, possibly what happened. You have to go left or right. If that driver thought he was still on the highway, he would have continued to go straight. Didn't have enough time to correct it and plunged off the highway. It appears may have been what happened.

But the cleanup, the bus has finally been removed. These are earlier pictures. But six dead, another 22 injured. Several critically. We're keeping an eye on this story. We do want to let you know that the Atlanta Police Department, we're expecting to hear from them at the top of the hour, a press conference, to get the very latest on this accident and what they think happened.

Also expecting a press conference at the top of the hour as well from Bluffton University, which is where the team was from. Bluffton absolutely devastated right now from a report we heard from one of our affiliate reporters there.

And also Grady Memorial is where 19 of the injured have been taken. Grady Memorial Hospital here in Atlanta. Expecting another press conference from them around 11:30 or so. We will be monitoring all of those and dipping in and out and bringing you live coverage of all of those as we get it. So stay here with CNN for the latest on those.

NGUYEN: Well, another big story that we continue to follow is, of course, those severe storms that rolled through Alabama and Georgia, killing at least 20 people. We understand President Bush is going to be speaking about those storms around 12:05 Eastern Time today and we'll try to bring that to you.

But last hour we talked with two brothers who were inside Enterprise High School in Alabama when a tornado struck yesterday. You see the damage. Well, Dillon Lewis (ph) and Mitchell Mock (ph), they were injured in that. But despite those injuries, they helped pull others from the debris, including their friend, Brent Smith. Brent's mom, Barbara, at the school to check on him, was pulled to safety at the last minute herself by a woman she knows only as a ballet teacher in Enterprise. Both Barbara Smith and her son Brent join us from Enterprise. You see what's left of the school behind them. But first of all, we want to thank you both for being with us today after such a traumatic event yesterday. Thank you.

BARBARA SMITH, SAVED BY TEACHER: Thank you for having us.

BRENT SMITH: Thank you.

NGUYEN: Barbara, let me start with you because you went to the school to pick up your son. And just as you arrived, you were pulled in that school, perhaps even saved your life because of it. So tell us what happened.

BARBARA SMITH: Well, we had just arrived to check him out of school. And when we got to the door of the school, they said, hurry, run in, they're touching down, they're touching down. They pulled us into the school. The ballet teacher saw Amelia (ph). She grabbed her. She put us to the floor. Put her between the both of us.

And just as we sat down, the front door blasted out, glass went flying everywhere. And the section that we were in, it felt like the building was breathing. You could feel the pull and the give of the pressure in that room.

And we could not find Brent. And when the tornado seemed to have touched and gone, we frantically started looking for Brent and Amelia was on my back for about 45 minutes as we're looking for Brent, who we later found out was in third hall.

NGUYEN: Yes, we'll talk about Brent's story, but I think yours is quite amazing because this ballet teacher that you don't really know pretty much could have saved your life because had you not gotten there when you did, if it would just have been maybe a minute or two later, what would have happened to you? BARBARA SMITH: Well, our vehicle is totally destroyed. So had we not gotten out of the car a minute sooner, then the tornado would have either hit us in the vehicle or transit from the vehicle to the school. And had Debra (ph) not seen Amelia, her ballet student, then I don't think I would have realized how serious and how close that tornado was. She grabbed us and pulled us down and put us on a wall. And so, luckily, we did not get any glass or debris, thankfully. And Amelia is just fine.

NGUYEN: And they're both just fine, thank goodness.

BARBARA SMITH: And then of course our -- and then our immediate attention, obviously, was to try to find our son. And it took about 45 minutes to find him. And thank God his friend, Dillon pulled him out. And then Brent helped other students. and he's pretty cut up, but luckily nothing is broken. And even though he was in that third hall, thankfully, he's all right. And our hearts and prayers are out to the other families.

NGUYEN: Well let's talk to Brent for a second because you did receive some cuts and bruises and that's all, which is kind of remarkable. Walk us through where you were at the time when this storm hit.

BRENT SMITH, RESCUED BY FRIENDS: I was right next to Dillon Lewis whenever the storm hit. And he took a lot of the debris. And it hit him and piled up behind him. And like some if it piled up on my legs and my arm, so I couldn't really move. And we helped a girl that was between us out and the Dillon reached in and I covered myself a little bit and then he pulled me out. And then me and him got up and we got out and we helped Coach Hart (ph) and some girls that were trapped underneath him and behind him get free of all the debris and all. And then we helped clear like a little debris path and all so paramedics could get to the third hall and help all the people out that were still trapped underneath the stuff that was too heavy to move off of them.

NGUYEN: Walk us through that. How chaotic was it? How difficult was that? I imagine you were hearing people yell out in need of help.

BRENT SMITH: When the tornado first hit, like it got real loud. And then I got hit in the head with like a block and everything got kind of quiet. And then whenever it all quieted down, you could hear people screaming for help and all. And then whenever Dillon got me out, we went and found anyone that was calling for help and we helped -- we tried to -- we uncovered them and all that. And pulled him out of all the rubble that they were trapped underneath. And it was real chaotic.

NGUYEN: I imagine.

Well, how are you coping, knowing that you were spared when eight other of the students there, unfortunately, did not survive this storm?

BRENT SMITH: Well, it's real unfortunate. Like, I was blessed. I don't know. I had a wall fall on top of me and the roof fell in on top of us. And we had all kinds of stuff piled up.

NGUYEN: Just one of those things that I think at some point you're going to sit back and take it all in. It's so very fresh and so very new. But the good news in all of this is that you indeed survived as did many of the other students there and we thank you both for sharing your really amazing story with us. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you for having us.

HOLMES: All right. OK, we're OK, not so bad. All right.

NGUYEN: Settle down.

HOLMES: I was nervous just to put it up. We've been nervous around here to put this picture up after just a crazy week, tumultuous week. The Dow is now down 30 points after it's really been a bumpy, bumpy week after that 400 plus point drop on Tuesday. It's been a little bit down ever since. But maybe a little stable, at least now. The Dow down 33 points, the S&P and Nasdaq down slightly as well today, but we will see on this final trading day of the week.

NGUYEN: A battered bus moved finally from the accident scene. You see it right there. Our crews gathering info at Atlanta hospitals, also the Atlanta police department expected to update us on this tragedy at 11:00 Eastern. We do have complete CNN coverage all morning long in the NEWSROOM.

HOLMES: And the south scrambles, tornadoes leave hurt and heartbreak in small towns. Our correspondents on the scene this morning, they're coming up in the CNN newsroom.

CARRIE LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Carrie Lee at the New York Stock Exchange. Tempered losses right now on the Dow as we just saw, but it has been a roller coaster week for stocks. Coming up, we'll take a look at where we stand for the week and how the markets are expected to move going forward. You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.


HOLMES: And a developing story we've been updating for you all morning, a college road trip ending in absolute disaster, a tragedy this morning in Atlanta. A bus, you're seeing it there, that bus was carrying baseball players from Ohio's Bluffton University. It tumbled off an overpass and on to an interstate. Police say at least six people are dead, 22 injured.


DR. ERIC OSSMANN, GRADY MEMORIAL HOSPITAL: We triaged the patients. We took the critical patients immediately to the hospital in the ambulances that were available. We established incident command and triaged the lower priority patients onto the motor bus, evaluated them further there and then brought them down to the health system for their complete evaluation.


HOLMES: And the team was headed to Ft. Myers, Florida for a tournament. The accident completely shut down southbound traffic on I-75. That is a major artery that's leading into Atlanta.

NGUYEN: Back at Bluffton University where these students are from obviously, the rest of the campus is buzzing and grieving about the loss today. Let's get you over to affiliate reporter from WTVG, Zak Ottenstein with the latest on reaction there as we look at live pictures now of students leaving the campus, as classes are closed and somewhat of a makeshift memorial service, crisis center has been set up.


ZACK OTTENSTEIN, WTVG: Rebecca, there are just streams of students coming into the hall behind us. This is Founders hall here on the Bluffton University campus. It's where they will be holding a prayer vigil for all students and faculty staff here at the university at 10:00. We just had an opportunity to speak with several of the students as they walked into the hall here. They were members of the baseball team who were not on this trip. As you can imagine, they're distraught this morning.

We spoke to one gentleman who said that these teammates spend almost every moment of every day together in practice especially during this time of year. He called this one big family. It feels right now as if they've lost a part of that family and he cannot describe the pain. We also asked him how much information they've been able to receive. At this point, their information is still sketchy as well, speaking to girlfriends, family members, close friends, any people that they can get information from. He tells us that there is some recovery going on and that he is hearing that some players in the bus accident are improving in their condition, but obviously, there is extraordinary loss here on the campus this morning. That's why you can see so many students here walking into Founders hall to begin prayer. We told you during our last live shot, this is a Mennonite campus and there is oftentimes prayer services here on the campus. Certainly today, that religious faith will be called upon as everyone here makes an effort to grieve. We're live in Bluffton, Zack Ottenstein, 13 (INAUDIBLE) action news.

NGUYEN: Classes are cancelled today. At 11:00 a.m., that university will be holding a news conference as we learn more about those involved in this accident. TJ

HOLMES: This school is Bluffton University again. It's a small liberal arts school that's affiliated with the Mennonite church USA. The school is 60 miles south of Toledo, Ohio, 1,155 students enrolled there this academic year, so a small school there. More than 95 percent of the students receive some sort of financial aid. The school's baseball team played in the heartland conference. Their next game was actually scheduled for tomorrow at noon against Eastern Mennonite. So just a little background, a little info there on the Bluffton Beavers there, the baseball team. We've been talking about this accident today, Chad Myers and a lot of people scratching their heads. Some of the initial thoughts were, did the bus driver fall asleep or what happened? When you break it down like this for us, it's quite easy to see how somebody who doesn't know the roads could get confused by this.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEROLOGIST: First of all realize that from Bluffton, Ohio to Atlanta, Georgia is 550 some odd miles. The bus driver is on I-75 one road basically all night long, gets to Atlanta and there's something called the HOV, high occupancy vehicle lane. That's the left most lane right here. Until every other exit, until he got to this one, all this exits were to the right. If you were in the HOV and you wanted to get off, you'd have to go right, right, right, and then get off the regular exit. So the very first one of its kind here as you get into Atlanta, there are a number after this, south of here, but there's a gap right here where you actually can exit to the left and you go up this ramp and the exit is one way and entrance to the HOV northbound is the other way.

Here is the exit ramp. The bus should have been down here in the HOV lane driving under the bridge. The driver was up on the exit ramp until he got to about this point. There is a stop sign here. But at that point in time, there was no way for that bus to stop. It curved, skidded, hopefully, we did see some skid marks, but not many, thinking maybe the bus probably had anti-lock brakes. It hit the curve right here. The bus spun around in a counterclockwise fashion and ended up on the roadway below. That's the only way this could have happened and it really was not so much the bus driver's fault. We'll back it up again. You have to pay attention to that little split. Remember, all the way down from basically 285, which is the northern perimeter of Atlanta, all the way down to this spot, you stay left, you stay left, you stay left because you're the HOV lane.

That's what he did right there, stayed left but that was not the place to be. You were actually supposed to stay right of that divide and go under the bridge, not up onto the exit ramp so a very difficult day there for the people there and this is not the first time an accident has happened from this exit. We know that back in 1991, a driver was trying to enter, this is the northbound entrance to the HOV northbound. A driver missed this turn, took this turn, drove almost 10 miles the wrong direction, up I-75, in the down bound lane, northbound in the southbound lane, caused a crash north there killed the father of a family heading to Disney World in a head-on collision 10 miles later.

HOLMES: And Chad, the exit there where the bus went, just a stop sign, not a stoplight, nothing big to signal. There's just a stop sign.

MYERS: Hexagonal octagonal sign.

HOLMES: All right, Chad Myers, thank you for breaking that down for us. It makes a whole lot more sense and see how easily something like that can happen unfortunately. Thanks so much Chad.

NGUYEN: Deadly tornadoes rip across the south weeks before the official start of spring. Take a look at this. In southern Alabama, search crews worked through the night, the death toll rising with the sun. Latest numbers, at least eight people killed at Enterprise High School inside a high school. A ninth fatality confirmed in the town and a tenth in Wilcox County, Alabama. Now the outbreak of tornadoes then plowed into southern Georgia, the death toll there, at least nine. The hospital in Americus, Georgia was hit and badly damaged. It was forced to shut down but only after treating tornado victims.

And the storm that kicked up the tornadoes began its deadly rampage in the Missouri Ozarks. A seven-year-old girl was killed in Caulfield when a twister shredded her family's mobile home.

HOLMES: Much of that terror from the tornadoes and storms in the south began in Alabama and the next target was then south Georgia. Three counties were hit overnight. In the aftermath of the storm, disbelief at the destruction efforts to find victims and survivors.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's rescue workers scattered all over the site, all over town. This is Gretchen. She's trained in search and rescue.

JOE SINCLAIR, SURVIVOR: I was right across the road and I seen it come down from the sky and wiped out everything. Less than five seconds, it went through and I seen it, it was this big.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what happened when you got to the high school, what did you see?

SINCLAIR: Panic, massive panic.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I put my children and I in the closet and I covered our heads with the blanket and we just held on until it was over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's incredible, the whole house was just about gone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. When we took our heads out, we could see it was all gone and we waited for the wind to die down a bit and everyone's crying and we got back out and got to safety, went over to the church across the street.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Devastation. I mean, you can't even see my sign. The doctor's office and that was the Salvation Army. That was the beauty shop and that was a doctor's office over there. You can't even see anything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were actually at the play tonight. The play got stopped. It was "The Sound of Music" and we heard the classic train noise of the tornado and (INAUDIBLE) people started calling on their cell phones and finding out things.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As you can see, we got a lot of damage. We're trying to clear all the roads for the emergency crews to get in and out. So that's basically what I'm doing is clearing the roads.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said you had a certain path you were taking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. We're trying to get it where it we can get everybody to Albany.


HOLMES: And we want to turn back to that tragic bus accident that happened this morning in Atlanta. That's the scene there, pictures from earlier, a college baseball team from Ohio, six people killed when the team's bus plunged off an overpass onto a busy highway. We're now getting word that six were killed. Of those six, the breakdown is the driver, the driver's wife and four students are among the dead. Again, six killed and the driver, his wife and then four students were killed. This team was from Bluffton, Ohio, a baseball team that was making its way through Atlanta to Florida for a baseball tournament.

Here's some other pictures. This is how it ended up after falling off that overpass. It ended up on its side like that. We got reports that people were actually watching - witnesses were watching people actually crawl out of that bus, some of the survivors, but six died. We know at least another 29 were injured. Some of them were injured critically. But amazingly some did escape with just bumps and bruises and considered to be a mild moderate condition. But again, we know that six were killed. We're getting word of a press conference happening at 11:00, expecting to hear from the Atlanta police department at 11:00, also the Bluffton University where the students were from, expecting a press conference from this as well at 11:00 and also more details from Grady Memorial, where 19 are being treated, expecting that press conference at 11:30. We'll be covering all of that for you live. Well bring you information on that.

But again, the breakdown is that it appears the driver, his wife and also four students were killed in this accident. We will continue to follow this and bring you more information on this tragic tragic story and we will getting more answers. Also I want to note that Airtran has offered, do want to let people out there know, who do have family members or students, their sons are possibly on this bus, we need to let them know that Airtran is offering to fly the families down for free. You see that number up there on your screen. It's 1- 800-AIRTRAN is the breakdown, but 247-8726 and you should ask for the Bluffton University coordinator, but again, just a horrible horrible story this morning Betty, here in Atlanta.

NGUYEN: Again, we want to let you know what is coming up because there's more information to come on this. As TJ mentioned just briefing that we are gathering information at the Atlanta hospitals. The Atlanta police department is going to hold a news conference in about 15 minutes from now. We will take that. Also, Bluffton University is going to be having a news conference at 11:00 Eastern as well. When that information comes in, we will take it to you.

Also, it's the traders' creed today, TGIF right. Well a roller coaster of a week for the market and we are watching the stocks all morning. The final trading day of this bump week is under way and the numbers, we'll have the latest on that in the NEWSROOM.

HOLMES: Also, bound for burial, a plane carries the body of Anna Nicole Smith to the Bahamas. But will it really be her final resting place? Answers in the NEWSROOM.


NGUYEN: Take a look at the funeral for Anna Nicole Smith is scheduled to begin this hour, but the bitter dispute over her final resting place may not be over. Smith's funeral service at a church in the Bahamas is private as is the burial afterwards at a nearby cemetery. Smith's companion, Howard K. Stern has insisted Smith wanted to be buried next to her 20-year-old son Daniel in the Bahamas, but Smith's estranged mother challenged that in a Florida court and despite losing, Virgie Arthur (ph) may continue her fight. Her attorney says she is going to likely try to get Smith's body out of the Bahamas.

It has been a wild ride on Wall Street but the week is not over just yet. We still have a few hours left. Carrie Lee is at the New York Stock Exchange, with a look at where stocks stand now and what you should do with your investment. A lot of people wondering about that today Carrie.

LEE: That's right Betty, a lot of jitteriness these days on Wall Street. Well this week so far, we have seen the Dow tumble over 400 points at one point. The market does remain under some pressure. It did earlier this morning. But just in the last few minutes of trading, the investors have actually turned positive, up just one point right now. After the selling, I guess the bulls will take what they can get.

Checking the numbers, the industrials as I said, up two points right now. The composite, Nasdaq composite down five points and the S&P 500 down one point. One thing helping to push the Dow into positive territory, a 3 percent gain in shares of AIG. The Dow component says its quarterly profit increased more than seven-fold from the year before. Just like many insurers AIG benefited from a mild hurricane season. But as you mentioned, the week is not over yet and many analysts are saying the markets are still suffering from the after effects of Tuesday's massive 416 point drop. We tallied up the damages the major averages have suffered so far this week as of yesterday's close. The Dow industrials and broader S&P 500 are each down more than 3 percent and the Nasdaq composite has fallen over 4 percent. Betty.

NGUYEN: With all those big drops, a lot of people are worried. Investors are worried, so what are they going to do?

LEE: Well, financial institutions like Citigroup are advising clients to sit tight. It may be the nerve racking thing to see these sleep rapid declines, but the bank's wealth managers still do have confidence in stocks. Citigroup is telling its biggest customers to expect equities to actually outperform more stable investments like bonds over the course of this year. Many individual investors also taking a wait and see approach. That's the latest from Wall Street, TJ and Betty, back to you.

NGUYEN: Another reason to diversify. Carrie Lee, thank you.

HOLMES: All right. We're going to be -- continue to update that tragic story out of Atlanta, that charter bus full of a base team out of Ohio that plunged. We're expecting to hear from the university campus as well as from Atlanta police, both at the top of the hour. Stick around for that. You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.


HOLMES: The Bluffton University campus in Ohio is devastated right now after word and the news this morning of the tragic death really of some members of their family. The baseball team there in Bluffton involved in this accident, the charter bus they were on fell off an overpass here in Atlanta onto a busy highway, at least six dead. We're told the driver, his wife and also four students were killed, from Bluffton University in Ohio. The Bluffton University campus of course devastated right now. Classes have been cancelled. We get another report from the campus from a local affiliate reporter, Zack Ottenstein. He's standing by there now.

OTTENSTEIN: We have just completed the prayer vigil that took place here in this hall behind us, Founders Hall. We see hundreds of students streaming out of the building now after that prayer vigil, had an opportunity to talk to a couple of them about what was said inside. What we heard from students was that this was simply just prayer and group grieving as they all kind of grieve together.

We're told that the information coming to the university is just about what we're hearing over the air, that they are really relying on the media to give them the information to relate to their students at this point. Students telling us that there's very little they can do. Many of them know some of the players that were on that bus. This is a very small community as we've been telling you and so many of them have friends that were on that bus. They've been calling cell phones, calling family, calling close friends. So little information has been available at this point. Many of them are just waiting to hear the condition of their friends and loved ones. We're also being told however that this prayer is going to continue on throughout the day. This isn't going to end now, but there is going to be clergy available for students to offer them counseling all day long and probably through the weekend as well. We're waiting right now to get inside the doors. We're going to receive a news conference from university officials. They'll be giving us more information and we're doing our best to bring that to you live here in the coming minutes.

HOLMES: All right and we're keeping an eye on a press conference there in Bluffton, Ohio, expecting to hear from the president of the university in a press conference here in a short time. This is a live picture here of reporters and photographers getting ready for that press conference. You see that on the right of your screen, but then on the right of your screen, at the top of the hour, we're expecting also to hear from the Atlanta police, expecting a press conference where they're going to give us hopefully more information about what they believe happened in this accident here in Atlanta. So stay here. We will be covering both of those press conferences and dipping in and out of both. Stay here with CNN for the latest on that.

NGUYEN: Also the south scrambles, tornado leave hurt and heartbreak in a small town. Just looking at some of the damage here, you can see why. Our correspondents on the scene this morning. They are coming up in the CNN NEWSROOM.