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Dozens Dead From Deadly Tornadoes; Baby Tossed From Burning Building in Germany
Aired February 06, 2008 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kyra Phillips at the CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Those pictures unbelievable.
I'm Don Lemon. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.
PHILLIPS: Well, those storms smashed into Union University in west Tennessee and left very little standing. But don't take my word for it.
Aaron Gilbert was there when it happened, when his dorm collapsed around him. And he joined us on the phone from Jackson just a few minutes ago, right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AARON GILBERT, INSIDE DORM WHEN TORNADO HIT: Actually, I was in the Waters Commons. It's the meeting place where the RA desk is around the dorms.
Me and my roommate were going to check on everybody. We made sure everyone was in the downstairs rooms and in the bathrooms. And then we ran to the girls' complex to make sure the girl RAs were OK. Then we saw the clouds starting to drop and things started to pick up. And we ran across back to the Waters Commons.
Then we saw the clouds starting to drop, and I had called my boss, the (INAUDIBLE), over to look at everything. And when he ran over, we opened up the door and the wind picked up really big, and we started yelling, "Everyone go inside and get in the hallway."
We ran and got in the hallway of the Waters Commons, and then my roommate yelled out, "I've got to go shut the door! We forgot to shut the door! It won't shut itself!" And then as soon as he said that, my boss got in the hallway with us, and the it was as if everything blew up. I mean, like the building imploded on itself.
And me and some other guys were sitting there in the fetal position, and a door had fell on top of us and wedged itself between the wall and us, stopping the ceiling from coming down on us. And my ears pressurized and we heard the windows bust out. And then I waited, and then I realized what was going on. And I remember that my roommate and my friend had run out to go shut that door.
And so after everything was over we started to yelling for him, and he was screaming and he was under -- he was trapped under about two layers of concrete. And we went over there and found him, and we waited until the fire crew got there so they could find him.
Then we found out there was about seven soccer players or so trapped in what used to be the bathroom area, and we waited then. And then me and another friend went to assess the damages to make sure everyone was out before we came back to try to help as much as we could.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIPS: Now, you heard Aaron describe what had happened to his roommate, Matt Taylor. Matt Taylor actually went to close one of the doors, like Aaron said, and the power of the tornado sucked him out of that room and caused him to get trapped underneath that rubble. And I am told right now we have got Matt Taylor on the phone with us after just talking to Aaron.
Matt, can you hear me OK?
MATT TAYLOR, INJURED IN TORNADO THAT HIT UNION UNIVERSITY: Yes. I can hear you great.
PHILLIPS: OK. So we were able to interview your roommate, Aaron. And he told us what had happened to you, but take me back and give me a visual of what exactly happened to you?
TAYLOR: Yes, we were actually in the commons and we had been watching the weather on TV. And to get back to my room I would have had to go outside. So I was just staying down there with them.
And it starred hailing really bad and the door flew open, and so we were trying to get into the hallway, in the RD's apartment, but I wasn't able to make it into the doorway before I was being sucked towards the door. And the lights went out and I was being sucked towards the door.
So I tried to grab a gumball machine, and the gumball machine came loose. And about the time I was sucked through the door, the whole building just collapsed on top of me. So...
PHILLIPS: Oh, my gosh. And so were you completely under the rubble? Was it part of you?
TAYLOR: Yes. It was actually -- they said it was a two-car length concrete slab, and it was completely covering me. I could move everything except for my hips down. So...
PHILLIPS: Could you see anything?
TAYLOR: I couldn't. I mean, I could tell that I was outside, because the building had fell because -- there was rain hitting my face, and I was left in water. But after that it was silent and I didn't know if anyone was around me. So I started screaming, and then I heard other people that were saying they were stuck, too. So...
PHILLIPS: And so how did you get out from underneath the rubble?
TAYLOR: Well, my roommate Aaron was the first there. They actually had made it into the hallway and they came out, but they were not able to get me out because the concrete was so heavy. So I had to wait close to maybe an hour or an hour and 15 minutes for emergency personnel to come. And they used airbags to get me out and lift the concrete up.
PHILLIPS: How did you stay calm? How did you not panic? How did you not get claustrophobic?
TAYLOR: Well, I was a little panicked at first. I was more worried that I was -- because I hit my head pretty hard, and I was bleeding and that sort of thing. But I couldn't really (INAUDIBLE) panic about, I can't really go anywhere. So -- but I was conscious.
PHILLIPS: So how did you stay calm?
TAYLOR: Well, actually, I was just saying -- I had so many -- actually, Danny (ph) is one of the guys that we just sat there and just reminded each other that we were praying for each other, and pretty much prayed the whole time. And then emergency personnel got there and said, "We're going to get you out of here." And they were praying for us, too.
I mean, there were so many people around us praying, and doing all kinds of stuff. And we never (INAUDIBLE) there.
PHILLIPS: Right there, the power of prayer, Matt.
TAYLOR: Oh yes.
PHILLIPS: Aaron was saying the same thing.
Now, once you were able -- who was able to actually get you out eventually? Who did the airbags and lifted the concrete?
TAYLOR: I know like a rescue fire squad came in first, and then they had another emergency. And there were like four or five different guys that pulled me out of there. But by the time they had me out of there I was on a stretcher and in an ambulance. So...
PHILLIPS: Did you call your parents?
TAYLOR: I did. They actually let me call my parents from the ambulance, so that was good.
PHILLIPS: And what did your parents say to you?
TAYLOR: Well, I'm actually -- I'm originally from Nashville, so they said, "Well, we're going to try to come up there." But there was just another cell coming through, so it was actually about four or five hours before they could even get here.
PHILLIPS: And where are you staying now? TAYLOR: Actually, I stayed -- well, I was in the hospital last night until 4:30 this morning, and then I checked into a motel here in Jackson. And I think I'm actually going to go home tonight and find out when I can get back on campus, because pretty much the only clothes that I own are the scrubs that they gave me at the hospital.
PHILLIPS: Oh my gosh. And what kind of injuries do you have, or are you OK?
TAYLOR: Well, yes. I had -- they wrapped my ankle up. I'm going to be on crutches for a while. Nothing was broke. I had some damage to my right ankle. I had to get a couple of staples in my hip, and then also in the top of my head. So...
PHILLIPS: Wow. It's unbelievable, just the attitude. You have such a positive attitude right now.
TAYLOR: You are just thankful to be out of there. We're lucky to be alive after looking back at the pictures.
PHILLIPS: Oh, no doubt. Oh, gosh.
Matt Taylor, I know that the cell phone is breaking out a little bit, but we heard your amazing story of survival and how you kept an incredible attitude. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Matt. And I hope this year gets better for you and Aaron and the rest of those students.
TAYLOR: All right. Thank you.
LEMON: That's an unbelievable story, all of this stuff happening. And as you said, they can stay calm, and he's got a great attitude, and probably surviving on a bit of adrenaline right now.
PHILLIPS: And let's not forget the power of prayer, too. They're in a Baptist school. That has to play into it somehow.
PHILLIPS: It's unbelievable no one was killed.
LEMON: Yes. We've been listening to those stories. But also, there are some amazing, amazing, amazing images coming out of these storms from the Web, Kyra.
Let's turn now to our Veronica De La Cruz. She is tracking it all form New York.
You heard Matt and Aaron's story, Veronica, and people are telling their stories online as well.
VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, they are, Don. You know, we have been watching the Web all morning. We've also been watching our affiliate Web sites. We've also been taking a look at all of the I-Reports as they come into our newsroom. We want to go ahead and start right here with our affiliate WSMV in Nashville. We've been looking at all of the aftermath, Don.
So right now we want to take a look at the storm as it passed through. Some really, really amazing images found in this click- through gallery. This, again, is on the WSMV Web site. I mean, take a look at the power, how ferocious the storm appears. These are lightning photos in the Nashville and the Vanderbilt area.
And you know what they say, Don? One of the signs that a tornado is going to appear , maybe hail, golf ball-sized hail. And here you see it in the palm of this guy's hand.
LEMON: Oh my goodness.
DE LA CRUZ: So, again, that is the WSMV Web site.
Another Web site that we wanted to take a look at, WPTY. This is our affiliate in Memphis, Tennessee. And another slideshow there which shows the storm again as it rolled in. Again, look at the size of that cloud.
LEMON: I know.
DE LA CRUZ: Look how massive...
LEMON: I know -- how dark it was, yes.
DE LA CRUZ: ... that cloud is. And again, more images of the hail there. Like I just mentioned, we have also been taking a look at all the I-Reports. We want to go ahead and show you one from Chris Smith. He's in Arlington, Tennessee. Take a look.
I mean, Don, just stop. You can hear the hail there falling on the ground. And he took this video with his cell phone. He says that he stepped out of the office, he saw this massive cloud, this odd- shaped cloud. And the entire street stopped to look at it.
A couple of local officers shaking their head. They said that they never have seen anything like it. He said that this tornado we are looking at killed a man in Tipton County. That is Chris Smith.
We also received one from Tracey Weidner in Jackson, Tennessee. She says schools there are closed, so she hopped in her car with her kids. She went out to survey all the damage. This is what's left of a bank, believe it or not, near Union University.
Another one here from Tracey. A medical office located behind Regional Hospital.
And then there's another one which is supposedly what is left of an Exxon station. Again, this is in that same area of Union University. Again, hit really, really hard.
Finally, a shot from Beverly Hanner. She's in Ash Flat, Arkansas. This is actually Beverly Hanner. Not much left of a strip mall there. Beverly says the tornado started out behind her house, went through a wooded area, knocked down a bunch of trees. And she couldn't even get out until the morning, when they cut down those trees down. She says it totally destroyed some of the buildings. And those buildings, they're just no longer there.
So, again, please continue to send us your I-Reports, but do be careful. You can do so by logging on to CNN.com/ireport -- Don.
LEMON: Some of these pictures, Veronica, are pictures that we don't get from our news crews. They capture things that we don't see. And we know from these types of storms, and even hurricanes, we don't see the damage sometimes until much, much later. So, apparently they're finding out more damage there.
Thank you, Veronica.
DE LA CRUZ: Of course.
PHILLIPS: Macon County, Tennessee, is northeast of Nashville on the Kentucky state line.
CNN's Rusty Dornin is there covering -- or surveying all the damage, rather, talking to victims and letting us know how they are dealing with these deadly southern storms.
RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
I mean, Kyra, it doesn't matter how many times you see it. It's just still amazing to me. You know, I mean, the splintering and just the havoc and the sort of flotsam/jetsam of what the damage that happens here.
This is in Lafayette, in Macon County. Twelve people killed, maybe more. They've got rescue crews that are looking under the debris. You've got some folks over here just going through the mess, trying to see if they can figure out anything that is even retrievable from this area.
The happened to be a warehouse. We're in an area called Brattenton (ph), and in this neighborhood quite a few homes were hit very hard. We spoke to Jeff Stevens (ph) a little earlier. He told us that it hit basically without any warning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I started to watch the ball game last night about 10:15. The -- so the light went off, and I just started hearing rumbling. Then I got my daughter off the couch. She was asleep. Got my wife out of bed, and within seconds the house was just destroyed.
We just ran to the hallway and laid down, laid down on top of them, and ears started popping like you were in an airplane, and just debris started flying everywhere. It blew both ends of my house out, and I'm in better shape than a lot in my neighborhood. It was bad.
DORNIN: Now, do you know if any of your neighbors have been hurt or anything like that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not for sure. I can't confirm that.
DORNIN: Now, is there anything to save in your house?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure, yes. There's several rooms in my house that are untouched. Not even a picture moved on the wall. Then some rooms are just demolish. You know, walls are caved in from the outside in, just -- so -- but we're lucky, we're one of the lucky ones.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DORNIN: I'm always amazed by the strength of the human spirit when I hear people like that in the middle of something and their whole house was destroyed. And you look at this truck. We have no idea where this came from, how this landed there.
And Kyra, if you look over here, you can see this pad, this concrete pad. There was a building there. You can't -- you don't even know where the walls or where the roof or anything went. It's just completely wiped clean.
So, just devastation throughout Macon County. Apparently, the tornado ripped right through here, basically dividing it in half. So people are just trying to get in and assess the damage, and also find out if there are anymore victims -- Kyra.
PHILLIPS: Rusty Dornin, live from Lafayette, Tennessee.
LEMON: All right. I have seen this picture a number of times, and it just never ceases to amaze me. And I'm sure the viewers as well.
Four floors up, with fire at their backs and a baby in their arms, a family makes the agonizing decision to throw the child down to safety. Imagine that decision.
CNN's Frederik Pleitgen spoke to that family in southwest Germany. And he joins us now live with details on that.
Frederik, what do you have for us?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Don, it was the uncle who threw the baby out of the window at the last minute. He says it was a terrible decision. He says it was one of the worst and hardest decisions he has ever had to make, but he says he knew that it was now or never. He says that he knew that he did not have any time left.
And then he said down below, he saw a policeman standing there, and he says he made eye contact with the policeman. He says at that moment he knew he could trust that policeman and that baby would be caught.
And of course, we have new video also of that fire now. And it's terrible video. And it shows just how grave the situation was there. I have talked to a lot of people who witnessed that fire, and they said there was a lot of smoke and a lot of fire in that building. A lot of people in despair on their balconies getting ready to jump off. And, of course, a lot of people did jump off and were injured. And, of course, nine killed in that blaze -- Don.
LEMON: Hey, did you get a chance to talk to the person who caught that baby, Fredrik?
PLEITGEN: No, we haven't gotten a chance to talk to the policeman who caught the baby yet. The police say that he is not willing to talk to media right now. He says basically that he doesn't want to become a hero, which, of course, many people here believe that he is.
I was able, of course, to speak to the person, as I just said, who threw the baby, and he says that he does consider the policeman a hero. He says it was a great feat, and he says he knew exactly at the moment he dropped the baby that he could trust that man, and that the baby would be caught -- Don.
LEMON: We're also hearing reports that this may not have been an accident, Fredrik. What can you tell us about that?
PLEITGEN: Well, the German police aren't ruling that out, they say. They say they are exploring all sorts of possibilities and that that might be one of them.
There is two little girls saying that they did see a man inside the house trying to set fire to something. Of course, those reports are being investigated right now. And this house here in the center of this town, there was an attack on that house in 2006 where people threw Molotov cocktails at the house, creating several thousand dollars in damage. But so far, the police say they are exploring that avenue, but that is just one of many -- Don.
LEMON: All right. Frederik Pleitgen, thank you -- southwest Germany. Thank you very much for that.
PHILLIPS: Mitt Romney comes away from Super Tuesday with seven more victories and lots more questions about the future of his campaign.
CNN's Mary Snow joins us now live from Boston -- Mary.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kyra, Mitt Romney's press secretary just came out to answer some of those questions, saying that Mitt Romney is going on, that he will be fighting. And right now he is at his campaign headquarters here in Boston, where he is meeting with staff and advisors.
But the Romney campaign clearly had a disappointing night, particularly in California. The campaign had expected to pick up a good number of delegates in congressional districts. That did not happen. But the way that the Romney camp says -- or puts it, it was seven states, compared to Senator John McCain's nine states, and they are planning to head back out on the campaign trail.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC FEHRNSTROM, ROMNEY'S PRESS SECRETARY: The morale is very upbeat. And if you guys were out here and heard the cheering and the applause, that was for the governor and his performance last night. So everybody is feeling good about the future, and we are going to move forward from here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW: That was Mitt Romney's press secretary addressing reporters staked out outside the Romney headquarters because so many questions have been raised about whether or not the campaign could go on facing the disappointments. But what they're now looking to are two states, Ohio and Texas, figuring that there are economic problems in Ohio, similar to Michigan, where Romney won, and also the fact that there are conservatives in Texas. And he is hoping to rally those conservatives.
And tomorrow, he is expected and staying on schedule to address a conservative convention tomorrow in Washington, D.C. -- Kyra.
PHILLIPS: All right. Mary Snow. We'll keep tracking it. Thanks so much.
And if you would like to see the complete breakdown of how America voted, state by state, check out CNN's Election Center at CNNPolitics.com. You can see the contests ahead, analysis, and much more. Once again, CNNPolitics.com.
LEMON: Killer storms rake the South. The casualties, the cleanup -- what will these people do now?
We're live from Tennessee in the NEWSROOM.
PHILLIPS: OK. We have been reporting on that storm damage, severe storm damage, tornado damage across the country, specifically in Tennessee.
At least 28 people have been killed in what you are seeing here. Video coming in to us from one of our affiliates, WMC, out of Jackson, Tennessee.
I am now getting word we're going to hear from the mayor, Willie Herenton. Also Mayor A.C. Wharton, the mayor of Shelby County.
Once they step up to the mikes, we will take that live and find out more about rescue efforts, more about those that have been killed, the numbers of injured, and also the status of the university there in Jackson, Union University, where we have heard some amazing survival stories from some of the students.
But first, sacred spaces go green. Have you heard of eco- theology? Well, in today's "Solutions" report, Andrew Stevens shows us how faith groups in Canada are taking green to a spiritual level.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not words that make the difference, it's actions.
ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Words with particular resonance in Father Paul Kusac's (ph) sermon. It's action that has built this church, said to be the greenest one in Canada, possibly in all of North America. The church's previous home was like many others with polyinsulated walls, inefficient lightning. In short, an energy black hole. When it came time to replace it, the church's leaders wanted the new building to carry a important message.
FATHER PAUL CUSACK, ST. GABRIEL'S PARISH: Replace it in such a way that the new building would be a witness to our whole stance toward ecology and spirituality. It is called Canada's first green church, but I keep first telling them I want -- the green church should be producing green people.
STEVENS: Passive solar windows draw in the heat from the low lying winter sun and instead of stained glass, these colored windows are a more energy-efficient take on the traditional architectural feature. St. Gabriel's is part of a larger project aimed at bringing together all faith groups for the environment. The idea is that religious groups represent a substantial part of the society, unified under spiritual principles, which essentially deem the Earth is sacred.
Andrew Stevens, CNN, Hong Kong.
PHILLIPS: Those storms have stamped across parts of Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama. We are focusing on Tennessee right now where most of those deaths have occurred. At least 28 of the 52 dead, and we are expecting to hear from the mayor of Memphis, Willie Herenton, also the mayor of Shelby County, A.C. Wharton. We will take that live as soon as they step up to the mics.
Now, Arkansas west and middle Tennessee and Kentucky, it was an insane nighttime storm that just pushed over buildings there, flipped over cars and trucks, raked away everything lighter in sight. The shopping mall in Memphis was torn apart. Giant panes of glass just smashed against twisted doors frames and beams. And then 400 miles away in central Alabama, morning light revealed a horror scene. Take a look at this. Debris and piles of wreckage that were homes just hours before.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My sister lived next door to them. And it done damage to her home, it done damage to my mom's home and it wiped mine completely out, as you see. By the grace of God, we will get through it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIPS: One tornado took dead aim at a university campus in Jackson, Tennessee. It ripped apart dormitories leaving some students trapped. CNN's Sean Callebs has made his way to Union University where we had a chance to talk to some students.
Sean, it was unbelievable what they survived and the stories that they have told. I am sure you are hearing it firsthand as well?
SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we are indeed.
Right now, if you kind of look around me just a little bit, a number of students have actually come back onto campus. We haven't seen this in a few hours. They're trying to get back into these buildings that have just been devastated. This splintered structure behind me is a dormitory and right there, that upper left-hand corner of this structure, this is where the Morris family, and -- your -- that was your dorm room?
This is Frank Morris, Rose Morris, and your name?
MATT MORRIS, STUDENT UNION UNIVERSITY: Matt Morris.
CALLEBS: Matt come over just a minute. Now, you were in the chapel yesterday when this happened, right?
M. MORRIS: Yes, sir, the prayer chapel.
CALLEBS: Now, how frightening was this and are you going to be able to get back in there? Is anything salvageable up there?
M. MORRIS: Well, I know my roommates have lost all of their materials, but -- and there's a roof that's caved in on mine, so I don't think so. It is just material, it can be replaced. No lives were taken and that is what were most valuable to us.
CALLEBS: That is fascinating. I want to bring your dad in here just a minute, because -- deja vu for you. Back in 2003, this area was hit by another killer tornado, and you had a daughter here at Union University. Do you have any more kids? Are you going to send them here?
FRANK MORRIS, FATHER OF MATT MORRIS: We have one, but he is at Murray. CALLEBS: He's at Murray?
F. MORRIS: Murray, Kentucky.
CALLEBS: What were you thinking last night when you heard about this?
F. MORRIS: We done a prayer. We were concerned. This is, like I say, this is our second child to be through here, and this is the second vehicle we have lost totaled out at Union. Our kids have perfect driving records, but --
CALLEBS: Lost two vehicles.
F. MORRIS: Two vehicles.
CALLEBS: And those things can be replaced. What -- is this what you were able to salvage so far?
F. MORRIS: A few things out of his car.
CALLEBS: Well, that's it. That is truly amazing. Good luck to you. I hope you can get up there. I know you have a guitar you want to get out of there and a computer. Which is more important, guitar or computer?
M. MORRIS: I think I have a warranty on the computer, so I'm going with my guitar.
CALLEBS: Thanks very much. Good luck to you guys.
Well those -- that is one of the heart warming stories, if you will, of all of this. But it has just simply been frightening here talking to people -- people knew this storm was coming, we heard the forecasters, Chad, Rob Marciano, everyone talk about it yesterday.
But who would have thought it would be this punishing, this deadly, this devastating? And this is going to be something people here talk about and clean up for for some time. As you know, Union University is going to be shutdown for the next two weeks while they try to get this campus back in order.
Doesn't sound like a lot, but there students from 30 different states, a number of different countries, because there is a connections with the Southern Baptists, there are students from all over the world. They're going to have to find somewhere to live for a while while they try to pick up the pieces and get Union running once again -- Kyra.
PHILLIPS: All right. Sean Callebs, we'll keep checking in. Appreciate it.
LEMON: Lets go now to that press conference we've been telling you about. The mayor of Shelby County is speaking now, A.C. Wharton, along there with the mayor of Memphis, Willie M. Herenton-- W. Herenton. Lets take a listen. MAYOR A.C. WHARTON, SHELBY COUNTY, TENNESSEE: ... what was coming and it was just immense cooperation throughout the night. And it makes us feel really -- well that in the event we were to be struck with something on a larger, more damaging scale, that we would be prepared. It was immensely well coordinated last night.
Finally, Governor Bredesen did call early this morning. He's willing to come down. I felt, quite frankly, and I know Mayor Herenton joins me in this, that there were some areas of our state where there was much more in way of death and damage. So, I just took the liberty of saying that I felt his time would be better spent in those areas that had suffered much more damage and much more in the way of human loss.
Both senators called early this morning, offered their help -- they're standing ready to help in any way that they can, that's Senators Alexander, and Corker -- had nice conversations with them. And of course, Congresswoman Marcia Blackman is here, has been out on the scene out on Hickory Hill, along with Congressman Cohen and we, indeed, are grateful to them for the office of assistance and their readiness to help.
Bob will come back and answer any questions, but we will follow through with the applying for the necessary assistance based on the damage assessment. So at this time, I would like to call Mayor Herenton up.
MAYOR WILLIE W. HERENTON, MEMPHIS: Thank you very much, Mr. Mayor. To our congressional representatives, to all of the law enforcement personnel, emergency management personnel, and to all of you ladies and gentlemen. Last evening, we recognized and appreciate a well coordinated teamwork effort. I want to thank Bob. I want to thank Janice (ph), division director of the police department, and Cher (ph). I want to thank all of you guys for focusing on a disaster that caused damage to property and, we have also witnessed, in some communities, a loss of life.
The purpose of the press conference today is to provide the community with an update on the disaster, it's consequences and assessment, and also to convey to you that we have a teamwork effort. Whenever these disasters occur, we are prepared to respond. And I want to thank all of the men and women that labored through the night in trying to make a regrettable situation -- you know, more responsive.
So we will be here to answer whatever questions you may have. Mayor Wharton has already pointed out the governor is fully committed to taking a leadership role. Both senators have been in communications with both mayors. And let me also say this, because, you know, we will have some who do not understand that we live in a highly technological society where communication works. Mayor Wharton and I, you need to know, --
LEMON: Listening to the press conference, I didn't want to interrupt him as he was talking about the issues that are facing Tennessee and their particular counties and cities there. Let's see, the mayor of Memphis, Tennessee, Mayor Willie Herenton, at the microphone now, and just before that was the Mayor of Shelby County, A.C. Wharton. But we know, 28 people confirmed dead in Tennessee. And then that chaotic scene that played out at Union University and we spoke to several students there who were in their dorm rooms when all of this happened.
But if you would look at the devastation there, unbelievable, just unbelievable -- 28 people dead, so far. They're still looking through the rubble and still looking for possible other victims in all of this.
PHILLIPS: Jacqui Jeras has been following all of the weather conditions for us.
She was tracking the deadly storms through the night, giving us an update on where things stand right now -- Jaqui?
JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. We still have somewhat of a threat of severe weather across parts of the southeast and the Mid- Atlantic states. But the big job that the National Weather Service is doing at this hour is looking at all of that damage, assessing it, finding out how many tornadoes there were and how strong those tornadoes were.
Now I got this map from the National Weather Service of the Nashville office. And a lot of those fatalities that occurred in Tennessee were right up here in this area, and there you can see Lafayette. And this shows you the track that a supercell thunderstorm took and all of the damage that it incurred along the way.
So this was multiple tornado touchdowns, but one parent cell. Just to kind of give you an idea, the Storm Prediction Center says that were 72 tornadoes yesterday that touched down, but that is a preliminary number and there could have been more than one report of the exact same tornado. So there is a lot to go through today for those folks.
Now, the tornado watches have all expired at this time. So that's good news. We could still see some damaging wind throughout the rest of the afternoon and early evening. We are especially watching this squall line that continues to move along the I-10 corridor across parts of Florida and then also in to southern Georgia.
Eastern Tennessee still dealing with some isolated stronger storms there. That is starting to clear out now. And our big focus then for the rest of the evening will be here, through the Carolinas and on into Mid-Atlantic states. But the worst of this storm is certainly over with. Now we just have to cleanup.
But we do have some snow, too, guys. That is one other thing I want to point out, that this is a real winter storm for some people in the upper-Midwest, from Chicago over towards Detroit. They are getting some very heavy snow.
PHILLIPS: OK. We'll follow the cleanup, obviously, and the snow that is coming in there. Jacqui Jeras, thanks so much.
The Red Cross is mobilizing to help the victims of the storm. And if you would like to make a donation you can call 1-800-RED-CROSS, or you can logon to redcross.org. For those of you in hard hit areas, you can register yourself as safe and well on the Red Cross Web site. Concerned family and friends can just search the list for loved one who have registered themselves as safe as well and see that you're OK.
Now one of the most amazing stories that we have heard today came from a young student by the name of Matt Taylor out of the Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. You're going to hear part of that interview again. We've got to bring it back. He talks about how he was sucked away from part of the dorm room, because that tornado. Thrown under a slab of concrete, but he managed to survive for an hour. He lived to talk about it. He is going to tell us about that amazing tale right after the break.
LEMON: Well, destruction, just look at it. It is beyond belief. Entire structures obliterated by tornadoes. In Tennessee, we are getting word that 26 people were killed there, that is according to the Tennessee emergency management, downgrading that number from 28 now to 26. In Jackson, Tennessee, at least 50 people in a retirement home and more at a college dormitory were trapped when their buildings collapsed. All made it out alive. Still others were hurt when a twister passed through downtown.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES BASKIN, JACKSON, TENN., RESIDENT: We were leaving the restaurant from over there, and got to that intersection at the light, and it just hit us. It just blew all of the glass out, and swooped us up in the air and the next thing I know we were flipping and flying and landed over here, across from the intersection. I thought we were over there, but, you know.
My fiancee and my stepdaughter -- my soon stepdaughter and one of my friends, they took us all to the hospital. I got banged up pretty bad, and she is banged up pretty bad. Our youngest one, she's got a few scratches. She is all right. And our friend, he's got a broken collarbone -- clavicle, but just out here seeing if they can find our phones and our glasses, and my friend's phone.
So, I thought we'd try to come out here today when it is daylight and we could see. But -- yes, it just picked us up, and threw us. I mean, I don't mind losing the car. We didn't lose anybody, we lost the car. You know, we're all -- we lost the car, I hate that, but you know, I've got -- we got the insurance and I got another one. And you know, we'll get through it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Amazingly, we have heard of no reports of anyone killed in Jackson. PHILLIPS: Well, we have more images from Jackson, Tennessee. I- Reporter Tracey Widener says that she took these pictures near Union University, which, as you know, took a direct hit. This Exxon station across from the university also was heavily damaged, as was this medical office just behind the hospital. Authorities say that they still can't believe no one was critically hurt.
And if you see severe weather happening in your area, just send us an I-Report. You can got to CNN.com and click on I-Report or type in I-Report@cnn.com into your cell phone and share your photos or videos.
LEMON: In the path of the powerful and deadly storm, if it was standing yesterday, it's probably not standing today. A Kentucky legislator joins us live on the state of the emergency.
A.J. HAMMER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: For the last two weeks everyone could only speculate about just what caused the death of actor Heath Ledger. Now, we have some answers. That's coming up next in the NEWSROOM.
LEMON: OK. Finally, finally, some answers in the mysterious death of young actor, Heath Ledger. "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT"'s A.J. Hammer is here to tell us what killed the young star.
And A.J., we know it was a whole slew of things, probably more than one person should have taken, ingested at once.
HAMMER: That is right. Heath Ledger's death, Don, has been ruled an accident by the New York City medical examiner. Ledger was just 28-years-old when he died on January 22nd, just two weeks ago, at his Manhattan apartment. And, within hours of his death was all the speculation that his death was the result was a drug overdose.
Well now we know that it was a combination of drugs that killed him. According to a statement released by the M.E.'s office, "Mr. Heath Ledger died as the result of acute intoxication by the combined effects of oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam, and doxylamine."
Now, those drugs are more commonly know as percodan, vicodin, valium, xanax, unisom and restrol. The statement did conclude by saying that the death was an accident, caused by the abuse of prescription medications, an accident being the operative term here, because you have to consider all those rumors, Don, that were floating around, initially, that Ledger had committed suicide. And now we know just all the wrong drugs taken together --
LEMON: Yes and his family -- I remember from the very beginning, A.J., his family was very adamant their son did not commit suicide. And -- I understand -- are they reacting today to this? Do they have a reaction?
HAMMER: Yes, they are. And they're in Australia right now. They're preparing for Heath's funeral. Kim Ledger is Heath's father and he released a statement this morning. Here's what that said, "While no medications were taken in excess, we learned today the combination of doctor-prescribed drugs proved lethal for our boy. Heath's accidental death serves as a caution to the hidden dangers of combining prescription medication, even at low dosages."
He also expressed his gratitude for the outpouring of support that he and his family have been receiving from all over the world. The family is planning a private funeral for Heath in his hometown of Perth, Australia. They're not releasing any details about the service and, in fact, they've asked that they be given some privacy to grieve at this time, which we can all certainly understand.
Now coming up on "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT," big burning questions about two major stories today, of course Heath Ledger, and also Britney Spears. As I just mentioned, we now know how Heath Ledger died, but the question is, could his death have been prevented. Plus, the almost unbelievable new details about the allegedly outrageous things that Britney's manager did to her.
Wait until you hear some of these allegations. Complete coverage tonight on TV's most provocative entertainment news show at 11:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific. We look forward to you joining us for "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT."
LEMON: Yes, and we will. And I am glad you mentioned that, but just -- because reading the stuff coming out in court, according to the what the father and the family -- of Britney Spears, there are some drugs involved there. And possibly --
HAMMER: It is wild.
LEMON: Yes, it's crazy. We were talking about it this morning, the craziest thing I've ever heard. Well -- do you think this might explain some of the erratic behavior she has been showing over the past several months.
HAMMER: I certainly think if these allegations are true, it certainly has contributed to what we have seen from Britney over the last couple of months. But I think it is a much bigger picture than just that. But certainly, there's an element there that has contributed to what's been going on with her, sure.
LEMON: All right, 11:00 p.m. Eastern, right?
HAMMER: Yes. We'll see you then.
LEMON: All right. Thank you, A.J.
HAMMER: You got it.
PHILLIPS: So far, 26 people have died in the state of Tennessee because of that tornado. But the stories of survival are amazing. Matt Taylor, he was a Union University student there in Jackson, Tennessee. He tells his harrowing story of how the tornado sucked him out of the dorm. He was and he was thrown under a slab of concrete, but he survived.
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