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Tornadoes Kill 200+ in South; Royal Wedding Less Than 24 Hours

Aired April 28, 2011 - 10:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: It seems that every hour that passes today, the news out of the south just gets worse, the death toll, the powerful and plentiful tornadoes left at least 200 people dead in half a dozen states from Mississippi to Virginia. Alabama, as you heard, took the brunt of it. At least 130 people dead there.

People are still missing though and hundreds have been injured. Homes and businesses that were standing 24 hours ago, they're just gone. Parts of Tuscaloosa are unrecognizable. The governor of Alabama has declared a statewide state of emergency and mobilized hundreds of National Guard to help storm victims. Every survivor has a story.


FREDDIE VAUGHAN, STORM SURVIVOR: It was terrible. It all happened like in less than two minutes. Two big old trees came down, and I rushed to my back bedroom and rest room. It was horrible. It threw me on the floor. I couldn't get out the door. And then both doors were opened, and I couldn't even get to the door to get out.


COSTELLO: So terrifying. Reynolds Wolf is in Tuscaloosa. And I just can't believe the widespread damage there.

REYNOLDS WOLF, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It is really breath-taking. You know it's amazing is that if you step back 24 hours ago, people in Tuscaloosa, Alabama didn't have a care in the world. There was a chance of storms. Skies were partly cloudy. High humidity. There was a risk of storms, possibly some severe ones, but in terms of the devastation that we're seeing like this apartment structure behind me or even what we're seeing right here in the foreground, I don't think anyone would ever dream that things would have been quite this bad.

I can tell you right now and speaking of bad, you can hear the sound of the helicopter. That's part of the National Weather Service that is actually flying above to survey the damage. Trust me, there's a lot of it. You see these trees filled with the debris and everything knocked over by the strong winds, some in excess of 200 miles per hour possibly. But the idea is, Carol, what is it possibly like to experience something like that, to deal with a tornado of this size?

Well, James Sykes is with us. James, I know you've lived here in Alabama. You've been here 41 years. Can you take us back what things were like yesterday afternoon?

JAMES SYKES, TORNADO SURVIVOR: Yesterday they were calm, serene, everybody was running around, kids were playing. Now for the lack of a better word, devastating is the word that just comes to my mind. Everything is in chaos, and it's really, really terrible and horrible around here right now.

WOLF: You were actually on this street just yesterday, weren't you?

SYKES: Yes, sir. It was just like I said, it was just so serene. There were kids playing, you know, and there was a threat of just this mild storm. But never this. We never expected this. This is a total surprise.

WOLF: Unbelievable. Can you take us back to what you experienced yesterday afternoon. I know you had a phone call with your sister and you were exchanging information and there was a lot of panic, a lot of fear.

SYKES: Right. I think no one expected it to be that big. And what we were doing, we were translating between each other, and she was telling me the same thing. She was on one side of the town, and I was on this side of town. It was just that big. The storm was that wide. Like I said, it was a complete surprise for everyone.

WOLF: But you were saying it didn't really make a great deal of noise. It was almost like a soundless monster, you said?

SYKES: It was a silent monster is what I explained it was. It was full of lightning, and it was just moving at a steady rate. It was just demolishing everything in its path and debris going everywhere. It's pretty sad. My heart goes out to the people who really got the devastating blunt of this thing. My heart goes out to them. It's very heart-felt.

WOLF: You know, although millions of people hear about this kind of problems, they see this on TV, it's very hard for us to comprehend what this can do to a community. How are you feeling? How are your emotions?

SYKES: I really think that it's a two-part question there. Because I think that what it does, it brings us closer to god. It brings us closer to each other, to pull it back together from something as devastating as this.

WOLF: So thanks so much for your time.

SYKES: You're quite welcome.

WOLF: Good luck to you.

SYKES: God bless you.

WOLF: Yes, that's one of the stories that people are going to be dealing with, just trying to recover. COSTELLO: Reynolds, I don't want to interrupt but before he leaves he said they got absolutely no warning. Were there no tornado sirens that went off? I was just curious about that.

WOLF: (INAUDIBLE) I want to ask you one more thing. We have heard this from a number of people in the community. Did you have any kind of warning? I know there was a forecast. But did you hear a tornado siren?

SYKES: Yes, I did hear a tornado siren. But you know, when we hear that, you don't expect something that massive.

WOLF: Absolutely.

SYKES: I think that's what caught everybody off-guard is that we just thought it was another, you know, severe thunderstorm basically and a little outskirt tornado here. But that's what caught everybody off guard, it was just so massive.

WOLF: When you saw it, what was your first reaction? Did you want to take cover immediately? Was it just sheer shock, disbelief?

SYKES: Fear. That's what it was. It was just that. It was intimidating to see something that big and that massive moving. And yes that was my initial thing, to find somewhere and take cover.

WOLF: Now, Mr. Sykes, were any of your loved ones, any of your family members injured or they lost their life in this?

SYKES: Yes, I lost some friends to it. I had a buddy of mine that got killed in the storm, and you know, like I said, you know, I have a double-vested interest in it. It took some life from one of my friends, took my friend's life, and also destroyed these people. You know, while these people don't have anything anyway, and it just took what they did have. So it's like a double-interest in this, you know.

WOLF: Absolutely.

SYKES: Yes, sir.

WOLF: Thanks so much for your time.

SYKES: Thank you, sir.

WOLF: Take care, take care.

So again the number that we have in Tuscaloosa is about 36, 36 that have lost their lives. The problem that we have is we got a lot of these buildings, a lot of these structures behind us that are still in horrible shape. There's the possibility of more people being trapped in some of the rubble. Some of these teams in the coming days may go from a rescue mode to a recovery mode. That's also a possibility. Easily one of the worst tornado outbreaks in history, certainly the worst that I know of in the state of Alabama growing up here. And again, the news may get worse as the hours go on. Let's send it back to you in the studio.

COSTELLO: All right. Thank you, Reynolds. We appreciate it. Of course, the storm also hit Georgia. I know a lot of people here spent the night in their basements, but it was devastating here as well. It's a good thing they did that and they listened to the warnings from meteorologists and the tornado sirens that went off.

At least 11 deaths have been reported in the state of Georgia, most of them around the town of Ringgold near the Tennessee border. And I'm sure rescue workers are out there this morning, looking at the damage and trying to find out if there are more survivors to find.

CNN's Rafael Romo joins us on the phone. What are you seeing?

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SENIOR EDITOR FOR LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS (on the phone): Carol, as we make our way into the town of Ringgold. This is the county of Catoosa in northwestern Georgia, it becomes very evident the amount of destruction that this area is going to have to recover from. It's just amazing.

A lot of the roads trying to get here are blocked off. Police are trying to reroute people. A lot of destruction just in the town of Ringgold alone, seven people died. This is again in Catoosa County, in neighboring Floyd County, two more people dead. Earlier I spoke with Ted Romly (ph) in Dade County, and he was confirming also two more people dead.

He was also telling me that he got reports of people seeing the tornado about half a mile wide just barreling through town and creating a tremendous amount of destruction. So, so far, according to the governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal's office is reporting that 16 counties have been declared under a state of emergency. So the situation here is very, very bad, Carol.

COSTELLO: Rafael Romo reporting live from northeast Georgia. Thanks so much. And Jacqui, when I heard that nice man in Alabama say he heard the sirens go off, but he didn't think that the tornado would be that big and the damage wouldn't be that serious so he stayed in his home, it just hurts your heart.

JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It really does. It's very heart-breaking. And I tell you, you know, we've been talking about the potential for this major outbreak for days. There was a high risk issued by the Storm Prediction Center yesterday. A tornado watch was issued well in advance of the storm, and there's probably a good 20 minutes warning, you know, before that tornado actually moved through Tuscaloosa. I mean, we had video live streaming, right here on our network as well as many of the local affiliates.

So it's really heart-breaking when you see people who say that they didn't get the warning and they didn't feel prepared. And you really had to take that personal responsibility. About an hour from now we're going to go a segment at 11:00 Eastern time hour about how you can keep yourself safe and why it is that we think so many people probably died in this historic outbreak. And there you can see all the tornadoes that we had yesterday. More than 150 of them reporting. We probably think that this two-day outbreak will be in the top five in terms of numbers of tornadoes. Hopefully it won't reach that benchmark for fatalities, but that number is over 200 now and it does continue to grow. Now here's what I want to show you on radar. And if you're at home and you're watching the radar, you can look for some of these signatures as well. This is what we call a hook echo.

And you can see this little bend right in here on a radar signature on what we call a super cell thunderstorm. And that hook tells me that there's potentially rotation within this thunderstorm. Now, this thing moved up to the north and to the east, and it tracked right towards the Birmingham area. Monica, if you could help me in advance. For some reason it's not playing on the wall here. There you go.

There you can see it moves up towards Birmingham and then it continues beyond that and goes into Georgia where we had Raphael. We're talking over 100 miles that this thing was on the ground and producing damage. To see it over a mile wide is just amazing. This is a radar picture that we get from the weather service in Birmingham, and this slice here will show us this bright color. That's debris.

You know, you can only see winds with radar if there's something in it, whether it's raindrops or debris. And when you see that bright reflectivity right within that hook area, that's a debris ball. If you take a vertical slice of the atmosphere, that goes up about 8,000 feet. So that's how high in the air all of that wind. It's just amazing.

Now, this storm is still out there, Carol, and it is on the move. And we've got watches lined up, up and down the East Coast. Now, what's going on in the upper atmosphere, the big tilt that we had yesterday that caused all the rotation, that's broadening out and the whole thing is weakening. So we're not expecting as much rotation today. Tornados are possible, but they're probably going to be weaker and they're not going to last as long.

But you still need to take it just as seriously. This yellow box here showing us a severe thunderstorm watch. But take a look, we got possible tornadoes just outside of that box. And so isolated tornadoes are going to be possible in addition to damaging winds. And this is a highly populated area, Carol. You know, we're talking New York City, Philadelphia, D.C., Baltimore and a lot of people in the path of these storms.

COSTELLO: Yes. So be careful and listen to those watches and take them seriously. Oh, please, please, please. Thank you, Jacqui.

Survivors of the southern tornadoes are telling their stories now.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was sitting in recliner, and I could feel the house - it felt like it was going to go. I thought we were going to take a ride. Praise god, he sustained us, but it was scary. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: One expert says the south is getting hit harder than tornado alley. We'll talk to him about why, coming up.


COSTELLO: So we're probably looking at a record month for tornadoes, and not in the traditional areas. You know, places like Texas and Oklahoma and Kansas. Those areas called tornado alley where you see all the storm chasers go. But one expert thinks we should start thinking Mississippi and Arkansas when we talk about tornadoes.

His research shows parts of the south or Dixie Alley are getting hit harder than tornado alley, and based on the last 48 hours or so, it's hard to argue with him. Meteorologist Grady Dixon of Mississippi State University joins us now. Welcome.


COSTELLO: So why has tornado alley shifted?

DIXON: Well, I wouldn't say that it's shifted. The study that we published recently is based on data since 1950. So it's not a new occurrence. We've always studied tornadoes in tornado alley, because they're easy to see and there are more tornadoes out there.

The reason that our paper says the risk is greater in the southeast U.S. is because typically the tornadoes we have, as we saw yesterday, are on the ground longer. Not necessarily in time, but certainly in distance. So they affect more areas and makes it more dangerous.

COSTELLO: So you're saying the shift has taken place over a number of years. How many years, and why didn't we know this before?

DIXON: Well, typically we've been trying to study tornadoes so we can understand how to predict them. And that means counting them, figuring out where they occur, what caused them to occur in one place but not the other. Well, this paper was not about predicting, it was about assessing risk. And we've probably known this for years in some ways, we just haven't publicized it unfortunately. And so again, it's not a shift. It's something that's been happening for decades.

COSTELLO: And the real danger for the people in the south like you said is that tornadoes stay on the ground longer and they seem to hit populated areas. You know, there's a lot of empty ground in the traditional tornado alley, let's say.

DIXON: Absolutely.

COSTELLO: What do you make of the number of tornadoes this spring?

DIXON: The number is disturbing. It's really startling. If you look over the last several decades, the numbers of tornados have been going up. All the tornado experts agree that it has to do with increased technology and increased awareness, the fact that people know what to look for and they have cameras in their hands. So we don't miss many events. We record them. So it's probably not a real increase, it's perceived because of our abilities. The number of tornado days or events has not gone up. But this month the numbers aren't as scary to me as much as the intensity.

COSTELLO: And why would the intensity be more intense, you know, than in previous years?

DIXON: Well, you mentioned 1974, the (INAUDIBLE) outbreak earlier. You know, it's not a long-term trend. We haven't had, you know, many strong outbreaks that people remember like this. But there are some consistent patterns, some climatological patterns like you always hear about El Nino as being a major driver of our country's weather. Well, we're in a La Nina, the opposite of El Nino and it's fading away as we speak. It's becoming more neutral.

If you compare this year to previous years with similar climate setups, some pretty historic tornado years pop out like 1999, 1974, 2008 recently actually was not as intense but a large number of tornadoes. So it's not completely surprising, but again it's never comforting either.

COSTELLO: You got that right. It's been awful. Grady Dixon, thank you for joining us and explaining things to us. We appreciate it.

DIXON: Yes, thanks for having me.

COSTELLO: We'll have much more on the storm, on the storm damage, the damage the tornadoes left behind when we come back.


COSTELLO: We're following breaking news about what could be a historic tornado outbreak. The death toll still climbing. We just learned that at least 30 people have been killed in Tennessee. That puts the total number of deaths across the south well above 200. Most of it, these deaths happened in Alabama.

A University of Alabama student documented the deadly tornado that hit Tuscaloosa. I talked with him last hour.


COSTELLO: So why weren't you running for cover? Instead you grabbed your camera?

MICHAEL WOODS, UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA STUDENT: Well, I was watching the news channel that had a good stream going. A tower cam from one of the downtown buildings, had a radar going at the same time. I could tell it wasn't going to come where I was at. I was near a stairwell in case it made a turn I could dive down in the stairwell and run down to the basement real quick. Fortunately, it stayed south.

COSTELLO: You're a lot braver than I would have been. So tell us as you're looking at this thing again, What were you seeing?

WOODS: Just complete destruction. It was amazing and sad at the same time. Like I said, I got the video shot, and you can see a lot of the debris. Actually I saw the storm what looked to be touched down, initially to the west and it keep moving towards the east, appearing to follow 15th Street.

COSTELLO: And you could actually see it like sucking up homes and cars and things into that wind tunnel?

WOODS: I couldn't actually see specific debris like you said, like cars or homes, but you could see what appeared to be plenty of shingles, insulation, that type of debris flying about through the air.

COSTELLO: We understand that 36 people are dead in Tuscaloosa, and we're hearing some students may have been injured. What are you hearing?

WOODS: I know there's a lot of deaths, sadly. I think the count is at 15 now. Plenty of injuries admitted to the local hospital. As far as people that I know being injured, I know a few people that lost their homes and cars. Thankfully no one that I know was injured, but just thoughts and prayers going out to the ones who were injured.


COSTELLO: Michael Woods, thanks again. Expect much more on this breaking story throughout the hour and all morning long. We have crews all over the region as thousands are waking up this morning with a first look at all the damage. Stay with CNN for the latest on these deadly storms.

Now let's turn our attention overseas. Syria's bloody crackdown on anti-government movement is drawing a rebuke from the royal couple. Prince William and Kate Middleton have withdrawn their wedding invitation to Syria's diplomatic corps. CNN's Zain Verjee is in London with a closer look.

So how did this unfold?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Gosh, you know, there's been a lot of controversy over the past few days and spats back and forth between the political establishment going, you know what? Why is it that Tony Blair, the prime minister formerly of this country and Gordon Brown hasn't been invited, but yet the Syrian ambassador to the U.K. has been invited? So this was gathering steam for the last 48 hours or so.

And so the Foreign Office a short while ago issued this statement. What they said is because of "attacks against civilians by Syrian security forces, the Syrian ambassador going to the royal wedding would be unacceptable and that he should not attend." It goes on to say, "Buckingham Palace shares the view of the Foreign Office that it is not considered appropriate for the Syrian ambassador to attend the wedding." So don't come, we don't want you is the message loud and clear there.

Just so you know, Carol, it is actually protocol that all members of the diplomatic corps are invited for a function like this. So this is unprecedented that he just got ejected last minute.

COSTELLO: I was just going to ask you that. Because we've seen similar crackdowns in Libya and Yemen. What about the diplomats from those countries?

VERJEE: Right. Exactly. You know, we called and we asked about this. One of the things that the foreign office said was that everyone that we have normal relations with officially can be invited. So the Libyan ambassador here was not invited because they say, "well, we don't have normal relations with Libya anymore." But the Yemeni ambassador has been inviting and we understand that he is going to be attending and the Bahraini prince was also invited and he decided on his own not to show up.

I think there are quite a few sighs of relief here.

COSTELLO: Zain Verjee reporting live from London. Thank you.

It's less than 24 hours until William and Catherine become husband and wife. London is abuzz with excitement over the royal wedding. Our Cat Deeley always brings buzz and excitement wherever she goes. Welcome, Cat. You've been in royal wedding overdrive this week, but are you still excited about tomorrow?

CAT DEELEY, CNN ROYAL CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. It's now literally reached fever pitch here in London. There were over 8,000 journalists just back there covering the event. There are dozens of people actually now are sleeping on the route. These ladies are from Canada. They're going to be (INAUDIBLE) a little bit later on. There's 1,900 guests but apparently having that last minute panic, do I look all right? (INAUDIBLE) Should I change any outfit? So everybody is kind of getting into it now. Nobody can wait.

COSTELLO: I can understand. So as we get closer to tomorrow, it seems like some royal secrets are slipping out. What can you share?

DEELEY: Yes. I mean, to be honest, everything has been such a closely guarded secret that there actually hasn't been that many leaks coming out at all. But we heard today that Ellen Golden (ph) will be playing at the party after the wedding and possibly even Jay-Z and Beyonce. Nothing has been confirmed yet. But those are the rumors that we're hearing. We're just waiting to see what actually happens on the day. We still don't know what the dress is that she's going to wear, and we're all dying to see that kiss on the balcony. You know, people are saying about a hand or a cheek, but we want a full-on smacker on the lips, don't we?

We want a full-on smacker on the lips.

COSTELLO: Absolutely. That's what I want to see as well. Cat Deeley, many thanks. It's always a lot of fun.

It's history in the making. You don't want to be the only one who missed it. CNN, you know, we can do international news better than anyone else, so please join us at 4:00 a.m. Eastern, and if you can't wake up that early, set your DVR. That's what those things are for. Be part of our global viewing party with Anderson Cooper, Piers Morgan, Kiran Chetry, Richard Quest and Cat Deeley.

Checking news cross country now. In Blacksburg, Virginia, Virginia Tech is appealing a $55,000 fine imposed by the government. The Education Department said the university failed to provide a timely warning about a shooter on the loose in 2007. You remember that? 33 people were killed. The university argues it's being unfairly held accountable for standards adopted after the shooting.

In Michigan help arrived just in time for a dog stuck in a river clinging to a log. The pit bull mix affectionately called "Nemo," may have been in the water for more than a day before firefighters showed up and pulled the dog to safety.

And a potential juror in the Rod Blagojevich trial gets her wish. The woman wanted to be dismissed because she had tickets to one of Oprah Winfrey's last shows, and she didn't want to miss it.


ROD BLAGOJEVICH, FMR. ILLINOIS GOVERNOR: And the other good news for her is she doesn't have to be in this trial, and I have to tell you, I kind of envy that.


COSTELLO: I'm sure he'd rather be at Oprah show, too. The former Illinois governor faces a retrial on corruption charges.

For a simple introduction, well, it said a lot.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My name's Barack Obama. I was born in Hawaii.


COSTELLO: President Obama gets some mileage out of his big birther bombshell. We'll get insight on the political fallout from CNN contributor James Carville and commentator and Tea Party supporter Dana Loesch.


COSTELLO: It is half past the hour. Time to check our top stories.

The death toll climbing from the violent storms that slashed across the southern United States. More than 200 are dead in six states. Alabama the hardest-hit with 130 people confirmed dead.

This afternoon, President Obama announces the largest reshaping of his national security team since taking office. Leon Panetta will be nominated at the nation's next defense secretary. General David Petraeus is the president's choice to replace Panetta as CIA director.

NASA is preparing for tomorrow's launch of the space shuttle Endeavour. Much of the attention will be on Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, though. She will attend her husband's mission less than four months after being shot.

After the surprise decision to release his official birth certificate, President Obama stepped up to the podium to explain. He poked fun at the years-long birther controversy, and then he started poking fun at the press for how it covered the issues. At some points, he even got a little angry. But his mood was lighter later at a fundraiser in New York City.




OBAMA: I was born in Hawaii.


OBAMA: The 50th state of the United States.


COSTELLO: President Obama's decision to finally release that piece of paper surprised critics and allies alike. On both sides, reaction was swift. Joining us now, CNN political contributors Dana Loesch and James Carville. Welcome to you both.


COSTELLO: Both of you, Dana, James -- I interviewed the chairman of the Republican party a short time ago. and he talked about the birther issue and how he felt that its time to move on. I just want you to listen to a bit of what he said.


REINCE PRIEBUS, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: The primary voters will decide in Iowa, in New Hampshire, in South Carolina and the rest of the country as to who they want to represent them on the Republican ticket. It's not my job to play police officer with the candidates. It's up to the voters to play police officer --


COSTELLO: So Dana, what I was asking Mr. Priebus, and that's why he answered in the way he did -- I asked him why he didn't call on Donald Trump to stop talking about the birther issue and move on if he really wants, like every politician, to move on from this issue. Should he do that?

LOESCH: I don't know that Preibus could actually stop Trump from talking about whatever Trump wants to talk about. I mean, it's Donald Trump. And in the press conference that he gave immediately following the president's press conference, was in my estimation, his victory lap. So, I don't think you could have the RNC chairman call Donald Trump and say can you maybe not talk about this anymore? Can we move on to something else? I don't think it would be successful.

COSTELLO: James, what do you think?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look, not this guy, but think of the speaker of the House who actually knows better saying, well, as far as I know, he was born in America. Then asked him, would you tout all these birther bills by these idiot congressmen doing this stuff, and he said, well, that's not my job to tell congressmen -- Well, dude (ph), that's exactly your job, Mr. Speaker, is to whip your caucus in line. That's why you have a leader and whip.

They're all like that trying to fool around with this idiot. And this is the most idiotic issue I've seen in American politics. And it was just a crock of nonsense. I don't think the president should have done what he did yesterday. Just let these people go make fools of themselves.

COSTELLO: I get you. We're going to talk about that in just a minute. But Dana, I want to go back to you. I mean, will we move on from this issue? Will everybody shut up about it?

LOESCH: You know, yesterday whether the long-form birth certificate was released, we suddenly saw the high unemployment solved, the high gas prices solved and the quagmire in Libya was immediately resolved as well. Except not. So, hopefully!

COSTELLO: Hopefully. And James, why do you think he shouldn't have produced his original birth certificate?

CARVILLE: Why should he? There's no doubt in any sane person's mind that that's what Hawaii requires that. They released that and people could see it. And no one -- it's nonsense. Let these people make fools of themselves. I think it's good for the country to see how many idiots there are out there. We need to get -


CARVILLE: It's a good way to conduct a idiot census in America to see who all the birthers are. It was a good thing. and working politically for him because all of the Republicans that knew anything were trying to run away from this thing, and they couldn't get rid of it.

I find Trump to be very entertaining. I'm kind of for him. I was for Palin, but she didn't want to talk enough. And then Newt stopped talking, and then Bachmann doesn't talk enough. I want more Trump. We ought to have him on TV every day.

COSTELLO: Well, Dana, it is an interesting question. Because some say all this talk about birther and now producing -- President Obama should produce his college records that this kind of talk is hurting the Republican brand. Is it?

LOESCH: Well, I have to say, too, Carol, that I think the biggest loser in all of this was Philip Berg. Now, he was the Democrat and aide to Hillary Clinton that started it. He's the grandfather of the birther movement. So, I don't know so much it's a strictly Republican brand because it began --

COSTELLO: But frankly, nobody remembers that. Nobody remembers that. All we think about now is Donald Trump and the Republican party.

LOESCH: There's a lot of people doing a lot of hard work making sure people don't remember that. I will say that when you -- some of the stuff I've seen that has been proposed -- I think the birther bill in Arizona where they added you have it to have your baptismal certificate and everything. I've been baptized. I don't have a baptismal certificate. I wouldn't be able to produce one if one was called on me. So, sometimes I think it goes a little bit too far.

Now, I think what this does is it highlights there's a double standard between how investigated Bush was and previous presidents have been and how people didn't go after the president with his records. I think if anything, I think it shows the double standard.

COSETLLO: James, do you agree with that? I know we did --

CARVILLE: Aww, no. By the way, you know, if a Jew runs - if a Jewish person runs in Arizona, do you have to produce a baptismal certificate? I mean, all this stuff - again, it is a very good way for us to take a census of all of the idiots in the United States and let them surface. I think it should have gone on. And by the way, it was Hillary's campaign that found the announcements in the Hawaii paper, so that pretty would debunk all of that foolishness.

Again, Trump -- he's the Republican frontrunner, and he's perfect for them. He's overweight, he's self-indulgent, and he's a simpleton. And he embodies the principles of the modern Republican party --

COSTELLO: OK, Dana, a short last word to that. A short last word.

LOESCH: You can be a simpleton and be as successful in business as Trump has been and be able to fall down and pick yourself as many times as Trump has. I mean, you can disagree with him all you want. I disagree with him on the birth certificate issue, but I won't call him an idiot.

COSTELLO: I got to wrap it up --

CARVILLE: He's also been bankrupt four times. He's just like the Republicans. LOESCH: Not personally. Only his businesses.

COSTELLO: We'll have to continue this offline, as they say. James Carville, Dana Loesch, thank you so for the conversation this morning.

Let's talk about the weather once more. Deadly tornadoes rake across six states, but some of the most hellish scenes of destruction are coming out of Alabama this morning. We'll talk to a mayor who says his city now looks like it was hit by a bomb.


COSTELLO: Alabama hit so hard by deadly weather. Over to the weather center right now and check in with Jacqui. We'll talk to Mayor William Bell from Pleasant Grove, Alabama in just a bit. Alabama so hard-hit by these storms.

JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I know. Very devastating. This Google Earth will show you, just focusing in on northern parts of Alabama. All those red dots, all of those are the reported tornado touchdowns. Of course, the most devastation, the most populated areas, and it was likely one cell that moved through Tuscaloosa through Birmingham and then continued on up into northern Georgia. So many people killed by that storm as well.

A lot of people wanting to help, Carol., there's a link on here if you'd like to donate and help the victims.

COSTELLO: That's terrific. Thanks for sharing that, Jacqui Jeras.

And as promised, Mayor William Bell is now on the phone from Pleasant Grove, Alabama. Welcome, mayor.

WILLIAM BELL, MAYOR, BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA (on the phone): Oh, I'm from Birmingham, Alabama. But hank you.

COSTELLO: I'm so sorry. You're from Birmingham. I'm so sorry, which was also very hard hit hard by these storms.

You experienced these storms yourself in your home I'm sure, and then you had to go out and tour the damage. So, as you were doing that this morning, what went through your mind?

BELL: Total devastation. People have been impacted beyond belief. When you look at the areas that have been struck by the tornadoes, it's like a war zone. That's not the only area that we had hit. We had some straight-line winds that did damage all throughout the city of Birmingham, and we're mobilizing all of our emergency services to address the issues that are out there.

We also have -- I'm sorry.

COSTELLO: I'm sorry. How extensive is the damage? Are whole neighborhoods gone? BELL: Yes. Where houses one stood in a very densely populated area, it has been completely wiped out. We have a number of people missing. Only one confirmed fatality within the city of Birmingham, but we have between 15 to 20 people who are missing. We're bringing search dogs in to help us with going from house to house, location to location.

COSTELLO: Do you need help from other places or do you have enough?

BELL: We have all of our emergency personnel out, but we're looking forward to -- the governor promised to send up National Guard to lead (ph) evacuation, and they will help us in securing the area as well our search and rescue process.

COSTELLO: I'm sure you've lived in Birmingham a long, long time --

BELL: All my life.

COSTELLO: Did you think you would experience something like that?

BELL: About 12 or 13 years ago, we had a tornado come through here that we thought was a big tornado, but it doesn't compare to what happened to us this time around.

COSTELLO: I just - I can't even imagine. I'm looking at some of these pictures, and you're right. Whole buildings are just gone, torn from their foundations. And then you look at even the larger buildings that damaged. We're talking all kinds of structures, not just homes, right?

BELL: Right. Churches, businesses. I mean, there's one church that cost between -- almost $20 million that's completely gone. You have locations where businesses stood. There's nothing there but the foundation.

COSTELLO: We talked to the FEMA administrator and asked him if there would money available for people that have lost their homes. Do you think there ought to be?

BELL: Yes. And I've been given assurances by our federal representatives that they have talked with the White House, and in the declaration of the state of emergency, there will be funds provided. We don't know what mechanism it will come, but we're prepared to assist the victims in whatever way we can.

COSTELLO: We'll let you get back to work, Mayor. Thank you so much for joining us --

BELL: Take care.

COSTELLO: Mayor William Bell from Birmingham, Alabama.

The death toll from that tornado outbreak now up to 202 people across six states. Alabama, as you know, was one of the hardest-hit. More than 130 people killed in that state alone.

We're going to have much more on the storms when we come back. Stay with us.


COSTELLO: The message delivered with heart-felt hugs for the two American airmen rescued last month in eastern Libya. Now more than a month later, the Air Force is identifying Major Kenneth Harney and Captain Tyler Stark, both of whom had to eject from their F-15 fighter jets as they supported the no-fly zone.


MAJ. KENNETH HARNEY, RESCUED AIRMAN, U.S. AIR FORCE: When you find yourself alone and you're isolated in a country where there's hostiles, you are scared. Is that back door open? I see a group of young Marine con units jump out, and that was probably the best feeling I've ever felt in my entire life.


COSTELLO: The Air Force is still trying to figure out why the jet crashed, but they're confident it was not shot down by enemy fir fire.

Let's check news Cross Country now. In Michigan, help arrives just in time for a dog stuck in a river clinging to a log. The pitbull mix, affectionately called Nemo, may have been in the water for more than a day before firefighters pulled her to safety.

In Arizona, dozens of students stormed a room and chained themselves to chairs at a board meeting of the Tucson Unified School District. They were protesting a proposal that would take ethnic studies courses out of the curriculum and make them electives. Opponents fear this plan could eventually kill the whole program.

And check out this colorful mosaic called Surfing Madonna. It's attracting a lot of attention in California. It was mysteriously installed on an overpass wall in Encinidas just before Easter. The city council calls it graffiti, says it must go. Art lovers want it to stay.

Want to take you back to Alabama. Martin Savidge is near Birmingham, Alabama. He'll show you some of the damage there. We'll be back.


COSTELLO: State of emergency declared in Alabama. It's really bad there, as it is in much of the southern United States right now. We want to take you to Pleasant Grove, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham where Martin Savidge is.

I just talked to the mayor of Birmingham, Martin, and he says it looks like a bomb went off there. MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on the phone): I'm not even sure that really describes it. It's beyond bombs. It's beyond war zone. It's really beyond words when you get into the heart of the path of this twister or the many twisters that came through the state of Alabama last night.

A couple of personal stories here. We were in here since darkness, and we were here at first light. I bumped into Bill Dutton. He was just walking down the street. Sometimes you measure the devastation by the look on people's faces, and Bill certainly had it. I talked to him. I said, how he was, and he was fine but he was looking for his mother-in-law. His mother-in-law had talked to his daughter last evening just as the storm was descending, and she was going to go hide in the closet in the center of her home.

Well, Bill Dutton showed up shortly after the storm had cleared. Home, the entire home was gone. It was down to the cement slab. He had come looking for his mother-in-law. He tried all night and couldn't find it. A short couple hours later, we ran into Bill again. He asked if we knew where the coroner was because he had found his mother-in-law. She was in her 70s, and she was not in her home. She was some distance away.

There are a lot of stories that are being repeated like that today, Carol. A lot of heartbreak in Alabama.

COSTELLO: Oh, that's just so sad. I know that most homes there don't have basements, so where could she have gone for safety other than that closet?

SAVIDGE: And you know, even those who would do what you would say, I guess the right thing, which is to get into a basement if you had one, there were people who were killed even in their basement. This was a storm that sought them out and hunted them down, as one rescuer put it to me.

The damage was so severe in many cases, houses were then lifted into the air and dropped onto the basement, which of course would have a crushing effect (ph). And that's what they found. They have found people crushed or trapped in their basements, and most often they haven't found them alive. So, this just shows you sometimes there are storms no matter what you try to do.

COSTELLO: You know, I know the mayor, Martin, told me that he's gotten reports of maybe a couple of dozen people still missing, but it's possible that number could go much higher, right?

SAVIDGE: It is. When I talked to the police chief here, Robert Knight, here in Pleasant Grove, he expects it to go considerably higher. Although there were some neighborhoods we went to, and people were very fearful for their neighbors. When we checked back with them about a half hour later, and they were accounted for. So, maybe, just maybe if we keep our fingers crossed, that will be the circumstance. A lot of these folks that are feared dead managed somehow to get away and survive. There was one woman told us she fled her home because her weather radio didn't work. She was cursing that radio and went to her sister's house. Well, it turns out that was the smart thing she did because her house was completely gone. The radio by not working saved her life.

COSTELLO: Oh, just unbelievable. You just never know. Martin Savidge, many thanks. I know you have work to do out there. We'll let you go, and say more than a few prayers for the people of Alabama and other states hit hard by those monster storms.

Here's a look ahead at some stories we're keeping our eyes on later today. This morning at 11:00 Eastern, the first lady hosts the Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day for the children of White House staffers.

Shortly after 3:00 Eastern time, the president is set to announce changes to his national security team. And later today at 5:00 Eastern, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is in the Motor City talking jobs with the Detroit Economic Club.

After visiting New Hampshire, Donald Trump reaching out to Republicans in another early voting state. That would be Nevada. Our Political Ticker is next.


COSTELLO: Donald Trump may not be an official White House candidate, but it sure seems like he's on the campaign trail. CNN deputy political director Paul Steinhauser is following Trump's travels. So, fill us in, Paul.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN DEPUTY POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Vegas, baby. Let's start with that, Carol. Donald Trump will be in Las Vegas later today. He's meeting with some Republican women's group. Remember, Nevada is an important state, it's one of those early states. Its caucuses right now, third on the presidential and primary caucus calendar. And of coruse, yesterday, he was in New Hampshire, the state that holds the first primary in the nation.

But it's not all business for the Trump visit to Nevada. Of course, he's out there for his good friend Steve Winn, the casino mogul. He's getting married. So, there you go.

Of course, as you heard yesterday with his interview with John King in New Hampshire, Donald Trump says he will decide by June if he'll run for the Republican presidential nomination.

Let's talk about the current guy in that office, President Barack Obama. Some new poll numbers in Pennsylvania may be troubling for him. He's at an all-time low, his approval rating in Pennsylvania, according to a Quinnipiac University poll. Pennsylvania a crucial battleground state. He won it in 2008. I'm sure he'd like to carry it again next year in the re-election. But gas prices may weighing in on all of this.

And you know, of course, polls change and people change their minds. The election is a year-and-a-half from now. Back to you.

COSTELLO: I know. We keep forgetting that. Paul Steinhauser, thank you.

We'll have your next political update in an hour. And a reminder, for all the latest political news, go to

That does it for me! Suzanne Malveaux takes over from here. A lot of sad news today.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: I know. This is going to be a tough one. This is going to be a tough show. A lot of bad news for folks, and they're trying to dig their way out of those tornadoes.

COSTELLO: A lot of prayers being said today.

MALVEAUX: All right, thank you, Carol. Appreciate it.