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Massive Cleanup and Rebuilding in the South; TV Meteorologist Prays on Broadcast as Tornado Arrives; Severe Weather for Southern United States; Protests in Tel Aviv; Trump Campaigns in Waco, Texas with Lies and Conspiracies. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired March 27, 2023 - 02:00   ET




ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN HOST: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world. You are watching "CNN Newsroom" and I'm Rosemary Church. Just ahead, officials in Mississippi promised help is on the way after a powerful tornado wiped out neighborhoods, but a new round of severe weather could impact already devastated areas. Plus --


MATT LAUBHAN, CHIEF METEOROLOGIST, WTVA: Dear Jesus, please help them. Amen.


CHURCH: The meteorologist who prayed for his viewers on air as the deadly storm took aim joins me. The reaction he's been getting since the broadcast and what his community needs most right now. Also --


CHURCH: Mounting opposition within Israel's government of the prime minister's judicial reform plans as anger once again erupts on the streets late into the night.

Good to have you with us. And we begin this hour in the southeastern U.S. where millions are under the threat of more severe storms, bringing large hale and damaging winds to areas already struggling to recover from an earlier rush of storms over the weekend. At least 10 confirmed tornado struck Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee killing 26 people.

The city of Rolling Fork, Mississippi was almost completely flattened by one of those powerful tornadoes. On Sunday, the U.S. Homeland Security secretary toured the area along with other top federal officials. They vowed to stand by these devastated communities now and in the future. One county official says the area is still mostly without power and there was no place to take shelter as people were bracing for more storms Sunday night. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL NEWSOM, COUNTY SUPERVISOR, SHARKEY COUNTY MISSISSIPPI (via telephone): It was a warning system, but the tornado Friday night took it out literally from one end to south end of Rolling Fork to the north, and it's all the way across, and everyone is affected. The entire subdivisions and neighborhoods or just totally -- some are just wiped away. They're just not even there.


CHURCH: CNN's Nick Valencia is in Rolling Fork with more on the damage left behind.

NICKV VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: With all of those who were unaccounted for on Saturday now located safely, the effort is entirely on the clean up here, and there is a lot of it to be done. There's very little of this community that was untouched by the storm that ripped through here on Friday night, but one of the things that really stood out to our crew here is just how everyone is chipping in to help. It's something that the governor talked about earlier when he spoke to the media.


TATE REEVES, GOVERNOR OF MISSISSIPPI: What we've seen over the last 36 hours in Mississippi, on the one hand, has been heartbreaking to see the loss and devastation of these communities, but on the other hand has been inspiring and gives me great reason for optimism and, quite frankly, makes me damn proud to be a Mississippian because Mississippians have done what Mississippians do in times of tragedy, in times of crisis. They stand up and they show up.


VALENCIA: Part of what's giving us a better understanding of the scope of this devastation is the aerial footage that we've seen. It shows just how widespread this damage is and gives an indication of how much time it will take to clean up. Nick Valencia, CNN, Rolling Fork, Mississippi.

CHURCH: The chief meteorologist at a two below television station reacted emotionally as he saw a powerful tornado on radar Friday night bearing down on the Mississippi town of Amory.


LAUBHAN: We got a new skin coming in here as we speak. Oh, man. Like north side of Amory, this is coming in. Oh, man. Dear Jesus, please help them.


CHURCH: And WTVA chief meteorologist Matt Laubhan joins me now from Tupelo, Mississippi. Thank you so much for being with us.

LAUBHAN: Thank you so much for having me.

CHURCH: And we don't often see or hear meteorologists pray on air, but that is exactly what you did when that tornado was bearing down on the northwest portion of Amory. What were you thinking at the time and what reaction have you received?


LAUBHAN: You know, I've -- I can't say that I was intending on praying. It was kind of a situation where we knew something extremely bad was happening and we knew that it was possible, maybe even probable that people were being hurt and about to die. And I very rarely at a loss for words, and I was just feeling a little bit overwhelmed, honestly, and it just kind of came out.

And the reaction from the public here in Mississippi, in particular, has been overwhelmingly positive. In many cases, people told me that it helped them to realize the seriousness of the situation. And I'd like to say it was something I intended on doing, but I think God just kind of took over at that moment.

CHURCH: Yeah, and you mentioned you were at a loss for words. There you can see you pausing, you're thinking it through. Do take us back to that moment when you recognized that the storm was as strong as it was and taking the direction that it did. It looked on air like it was difficult for you to comprehend it yourself.

LAUBHAN: It was. We get lot of tornadoes here in Mississippi and we've had a lot of bad ones over the years. This particular area about 12 years ago was hit by a very strong tornado. Amory gets hit on Friday night and then that tornado goes down the road a few miles along Highway 25 here in Mississippi and hits (inaudible) Smithville. Smithville was hit by an EF-5 tornado back in the big outbreak of April 27th 2011. It was one of the strongest tornadoes to that day.

So, it's that realization that, and maybe even a little bit of flashback, that something along those lines could be happening again. And it's just -- it's hard to put myself in the position of people at home at that moment. Usually, I can shelve that someplace, but for whatever reason, those people from that day and coming back to that it was really hard.

CHURCH: Yeah, I totally understand that. And talk to us about what was going on behind the scenes at your TV station as the storm was passing through, and of course, the urgency behind that broadcast.

LAUBHAN: Absolutely. I mean, the data was clear cut. I mean, you didn't need a full-fledged meteorologist even tell you what was going on. I mean, all the things that we talked about and point to on occasion say this could be bad. I mean, they were all there. You could have any report and said, hey, where do you think the tornadoes like, and they would have guessed.

So, it was an obvious situation and that tells you just how bad it was. Behind the scenes are reporters were making sure that they were getting us the information. My wife, who was one of our evening anchors at the TV station actually popped up at our news director and realized that that moment clearly this is extremely serious, something completely different has happened and kind of rushed in to make sure that we had what we needed at that moment, and then certainly it was a scary situation.

CHURCH: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And of course, as you've been talking to us, we've been looking at those pictures. Talk to us about how badly damaged the area is that was hit and what does the community need right now do you think?

LAUBHAN: So, I'll be honest, I've seen primarily only pictures. I'm going down to survey it tomorrow myself in person. I was actually at a church retreat with my daughter, it was last week over the weekend, something I've been scheduled to help take care of a bunch of fifth grade boys, believe it or not. The people need prayer. I mean, that's what they need. They need, I mean, it's -- this is not exactly the richest state in the United States, so they need assistance.

The government is stepping in to help that out. And they need volunteers just to continue to try to clean up and pick up the pieces. And we have seen an overwhelming support from people around the region to help out with that. It's just -- it's just going to take time.

CHURCH: And there is more bad weather on the way isn't there?

LAUBHAN: Yes. So, this evening we've had some severe weather and tornadoes down in central and south Mississippi once again and it does look like late this upcoming week, possibly Friday again on the week anniversary. We could be dealing with more severe weather around the region. So, it's that time of year that things certainly pick up and when they start coming, they just keep coming.

CHURCH: They certainly do. Its relentless, isn't it? Matt Laubhan, thank you so much for talking with us. We do appreciate it.

LAUBHAN: Thank you for having me.

CHURCH: And here in Georgia, a hailstorm moved through parts of Atlanta just a few hours ago. The National Weather Service issuing a considerable flood threat for nearly two million people in the Atlanta area, in effect for the next few hours. And there are preliminary reports of flooding on some highways.

Earlier Sunday, the Georgia governor issued a state of emergency after a large tornado struck south of the town of LaGrange. At least three people were injured. Dozens of homes were destroyed and as many as 100 were damaged.


So, let's get more now on where the storms are heading from CNN meteorologist Britley Ritz.

BRITLEY RITZ, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Unfortunately, the same areas are going to get hit once again. We've been dealing with it all through the evening and it will continue through the overnight and early morning hours. Many hail reports as well as wind and, yes, tornado reports over the last 24 hours. Same areas getting hit once again. Areas highlighted in red Alexandria, Louisiana, back into Jackson, Mississippi, Montgomery, Alabama. These are areas that are most vulnerable for long lived tornadoes, EF-3 or stronger, with winds gusting over 100 miles per hour in some sense.

Large hail to very large hail. We're talking golf ball size hail if not larger. We've already had hail reports of two inches and this will extend through Georgia back up into the Carolinas through the overnight hours. Areas highlighted in yellow meaning it's not going to be as strong but we're still dealing with the same threats, wind and hail going to be our biggest concerns.

This rides up into tomorrow. So, areas highlighted in yellow Savannah, Georgia back into Albany up into parts of South Carolina. Large hail, damaging winds, main threats going into your Monday, but a tornado or two cannot be ruled out. Heavy rain also another big concern as this trains over the same areas.

Pay attention to the timeframe here. Sunday night into Monday morning, pushing through Alabama into central Georgia up into the Carolinas. Again, it starts to weaken. We lose that tornado threat but holding on to the threat of damaging winds and large hail. Areas from just south of Birmingham and Atlanta, picking up 2 to 4 more inches of rain through Monday. That's these areas highlighted in orange.

Isolated higher amounts are definitely possible so, that flash flood threat continues on through the overnight and early tomorrow morning, Macon, Georgia back into Montgomery, areas highlighted in red. Again, where you're most vulnerable, but this extends back into parts of Mississippi up into the Carolinas through Monday morning.

So, remember, if you come across the roadway and water, turn around, find a different route. You just don't know how deep that water is. Back to you.

CHURCH: Thanks for that. And for more information on how you can help the storm victims in Mississippi just go to

There are growing calls inside Israel to halt controversial plans for judicial reforms after the sacking of the defense minister and massive protests on the streets. Thousands turned out in Tel Aviv on Sunday night after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who fired Yoav Gallant over his opposition to a planned judicial overhaul.

Reaction to that move has been pouring in with Israeli President Isaac Herzog being the latest to speak out. In a post on Facebook, he had this message for Netanyahu saying, and I'm quoting, "The eyes of all the people of Israel are on you. The eyes of all the Jewish people are on you. The eyes of the whole world are on you. For the sake of the unity of Israelis, for the sake of committed responsibility, I call on you to halt the legislative procedure immediately.

And journalist Elliott Gotkine was there when the protests erupted on Sunday and has more now from Tel Aviv. ELLIOTT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: As the saying goes, if you're going to

shoot at the king, you'd better not miss. And it seems that Israel's now ex-defense minister missed when he gave a press conference on Saturday evening and became the first minister to call for a halt to this government's judicial overhaul.

Because when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned from his weekend in London, he sacked Gallant and the result of that is what you see behind me, thousands and thousands of people on the streets of central Tel Aviv showing their support for Gallant in his opposition to this judicial overhaul and reiterated their opposition to an overhaul (inaudible) pretty much all checks and balances on the government, allowing it to put its allies in the supreme court and preventing the supreme court from striking down laws passed by parliament, accepting very narrow circumstances.

Now, since its announcement by Netanyahu, since it came out that he had sacked Gallant, these people have come out onto the streets. They're usually out on the streets in the past three months on Saturday evenings and on Thursday. This is a Sunday evening. They are incredibly angry that this has happened.

We've heard from opposition leaders like Yair Lapid, the former prime minister, and Benny Gantz, former defense minister, coming out and saying that Netanyahu has crossed a red line. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak has called for Netanyahu to step down. The Histadrut, Israel's main labor union, has called for a general strike on Monday. So, if Netanyahu thought that sacking Gallant was going to quash dissent in his ranks and put an end to opposition to this judicial overhaul, he was very much mistaken. For CNN, this is Elliot Gotkine in Tel Aviv.


CHURCH: Earlier, CNN spoke with Yaakov Katz, editor in chief at "The Jerusalem Post" about the developments in Israel, and he weighed in on why he thinks Netanyahu decided to sack his defense minister.


YAAKOV KATZ, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE JERUSALEM POST: I think what we saw last night when he fired Yoav Gallant, the defense minister, was basically a decision by Prime Minister Netanyahu. He is moving ahead with the legislation. They plan to bring it this morning to finalize the piece of legislation in the Knesset, the parliament's committee and finalize it and prepare it for a vote on Wednesday. When brought for a second and third reading, that's the final voting process in the Israeli Knesset.

And the reason to fire Gallant, I think is basically to send a shot across the bow and to create a deterrent to tell any other member of the coalition, if you dare cross me, if you dare violate your commitment to my judicial reform, I will fire you. And that is meant to get other people who might be considering doing this in the parliament to back off.


CHURCH: Still to come, it's another week of legal woes for Donald Trump and his comments over the weekend may have added another problem to the pile. We'll explain.



CHURCH: In the coming hours, a Manhattan grand jury is expected to continue its investigation into former U.S. President Donald Trump. They're looking into whether Trump falsified business records to cover up hush payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels over an alleged affair. That didn't stop him from campaigning for a second term over the weekend.

At a rally in Texas, Trump railed against his legal battles, accusing Democrats of trying to sully his name and prevent him from getting back to the White House.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Prosecutorial misconduct is their new tool and they are willing to use it at levels never seen before in our country. We've had it, but we've never had it like this. We must stop them and we must not allow them to go through another election, where they have yet another tool in their tool kit.


CHURCH: Trump took to social media to lay into Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, the men leading the hush money probe. The former president claimed Bragg's office was in complete disarray and that, quote, "potential death and destruction would follow if there's an indictment." Trump's attorney quickly went into damage control. Here's what he told NBC.


JOE TACOPINA, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: I'm not his social media consultant. I don't -- I think that was an ill-advised post that one of his social media people put up and he quickly took down when he realized the rhetoric and the photo that was attached to it.


CHURCH: Michael Genovese is a political analyst and president of the Global Policy Institute at Loyola Marymount and he joins me now from LOS ANGELES. Always great to have you with us.


CHURCH: So, Donald Trump held his first official rally Sunday for his 2024 presidential campaign in Waco, Texas. He was espousing his familiar election lie and also calling for the elimination of the deep state and talking about what he calls the Democrats new weapon against him labeling it prosecutorial misconduct in reference to the legal battles he's currently facing. So, where do you see all of this going and how likely is it that he'll be indicted as a result of those legal problems?

GENOVESE: Well, you know, he did start off this campaign with a rally in Waco, Texas, which is sacred ground for the white nationalists and militarists in America because that's where the conflict between the Branch Davidian group and the government took place in 1993. It's sacred ground for the far right. He opened his rally with a song of "Justice for All," which was sung, ironically, by people who are in prison because of the January 6th convictions.

And so, he's celebrating lawmakers in doing that. The speech itself and you talked a little bit about it, was a rehash of all grievances and it was all about Donald Trump and what they were doing to him and to his cause. He spewed a lot of venom, but he didn't offer a lot of policies. What are you going to do about inflation? What you going to do about national security?

But it was troubling because it was so defiant, so -- it was full of anger, and I talked about this being the final battle. Match that with what he did on social media where he said that if he is charged, it will bring what he said -- these are his words -- death and destruction. Well, as Bob Dylan, the great American poet said, "You don't have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows." Donald Trump is telling us which way the wind is blowing, and it's very troubling because of his propensity to talk about violence so casually.

CHURCH: And let's look at that because as you mentioned, he opened that rally with the anthem being sung by those January 6th prison mates, he said, and I'm quoting here, "2024 is the final battle" as you mentioned, that's going to be the big one, he said. He also said that either the deep state destroys America or we destroy the deep state. So, how dangerous is this sort of political rhetoric in the wake of what happened on January 6th?

GENOVESE: Well, you're making it into almost a religious crusade. And when you do that people who believe by faith, believe that they are on a sacred mission. And that means there are no holds bar. You're out to get the devil. And when you're out to get the devil, anything goes. And so, I think that opens the door for some really dangerous behavior, and I won't say Donald Trump will not openly advocate violence, but people who follow him hear that. They hear implications.

I mean, it's not that veiled a threat when you say there will be death and destruction. But people who follow him might very well hear that as a call to arms, and we saw what happened in January 6th, people died.


CHURCH: Yeah exactly. And of course, meantime, polls show that support for Ron DeSantis, Florida's governor, is going down while support for Trump is going up. Will that likely change markedly when or if DeSantis officially runs for the presidency?

GENOVESE: No. I think that Donald Trump has managed to get to center stage very quickly. He's a magnet. The camera loves him. He is flamboyant. He's interesting. He's a carnival barker and he's fun. Now, I think if he is indicted, he will wear that as a badge of honor. I think he's probably frightened that it's going to happen as well as he should be because the noose is tightening from a lot of different directions.

But the Republican Party is his. It's built now in his image and it's more of a cult of personality than it is a party. So, I think an indictment, for example, even with a DeSantis candidacy, an indictment of Trump will play very well to his base and help him get the GOP nomination. It will hurt him in the general election.

CHURCH: Michael Genovese, always a pleasure to have you on and to get your analysis. Appreciate it.

GENOVESE: Thank you so much.

CHURCH: Of all the dangers Ukrainian soldiers are facing on the front line, some are more obvious than others. Coming up, we'll meet a young volunteer who fought from the first day of Russia's invasion, now struggling to cope with the psychological damage of war.


CHURCH: In this breaking news, U.S. officials have announced that failed Silicon Valley Bank is in new hands.


The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation says First Citizens Bank and Trust based in North Carolina has purchased as SVB's deposits and loans. SVB's branches will reopen this morning under the First Citizens Bank name. SVB was the nation's 16th largest bank when it failed on March 10th.

Condemnation is growing among Ukraine and its Western allies over Vladimir Putin's announcement that Russia would move tactical nuclear weapons into Belarus. NATO calls the move dangerous and irresponsible while noting the alliance had not seen any change in Russia's nuclear posture. Meanwhile, a senior White House official downplayed Putin's announcement.


JOHN KIRBY, ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR THE BUREAU OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS: We have not seen any indication that he's made good on this pledge or moved any nuclear weapons around. We've inset -- in fact seen no indication that he has any intention to use nuclear weapons period inside Ukraine. Obviously, we would agree that no nuclear war should be fought. No nuclear war could be -- could be won. Clearly that would across a major threshold.

I would also tell you that as we monitor this and we monitor every day, you have to with the rhetoric coming out of Moscow and with rhetoric that's been coming out since the beginning of the war, that we've seen no -- nothing that would cause us to change our own strategic deterrent posture.


CHURCH: An advisor to a Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy says Putin is afraid of losing and that the move would violate the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Meanwhile, Russian attacks are ongoing in the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut. But a spokesperson for the Ukrainian military says they have been able to control the enemy's actions and that it has enough forces to hold the frontline. Russian forces have cut off all but one road into the city where about 4000 civilians are still living despite these seven-month siege.

The story of this war isn't just the big view of battlefield positions. It's also found in the accounts of those fighting it. Many young often lightly trained volunteers, some barely out of their teens facing a powerful enemy bent on destroying their country. CNN's David McKenzie met one young man who is paying a high price for his time on the front lines.


DAVE MCKENZIE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The video diary of a young Ukrainian volunteer (INAUDIBLE) Akula or shock.

He signed up on the very first morning of invasion. Ready to defend his nation.

In the beginning he says he didn't feel the burden of war. But then, Akula was sent to the Eastern Front.

AKULA, YOUNG UKRANIAN VOLUNTEER (through translator): This was the most difficult time in my life, he says. It's impossible to describe it with words miserable.

Where words fail him, these images tell his story. The story of thousands of young Ukrainian soldiers.

Akula says he's suffered severe concussions from artillery and rocket strikes.

He's now at a mental health rehabilitation center near Kyiv.

Did you think the conflict would be anything like you've experienced when you volunteered that day?

To be honest, I did not expect such a war, he says. When I went to war, I thought everything would be different. And when you get there, it's not what you think.

It's scary, cold, hungry and lonely. Akula says it's peaceful here.

At the forest glade center, soldiers get up to a month of treatment.

The hardest decision for them is to send them back to fight and perhaps die.

Most important thing now is that they survive and stay alive says the head of mental health. After the war, we will help them with their health and socialization in this country. Now every decent man should join the war young and old. Their job is to save Ukraine.

And Ukraine is urgently calling for volunteers like these.

They don't release casualty figures. But a senior U.S. official estimated months ago that perhaps 100,000 soldiers had been killed than injured at figure undoubtedly higher now.


Just weeks ago, many of these recruits hadn't held a rifle. But their commander, a trained psychologist, carries a Ukrainian flag on his back to raise above liberated towns.

At the moment I feel less afraid for myself and for my fighters, says Lieutenant Kafes (ph). Some of my team, have not seen combat and I have a great responsibility to lead them forward.

I just want people to clearly understand, says Akula. But the guys have been there since the beginning, I'm not going to stand forever. He says he isn't physically or mentally ready. But in a few days, he could be sent back to fight.

This is my job, he says, and I have to do it. Who else if not us?

David McKenzie, CNN Kyiv.


CHURCH: Still ahead. Another migrant tragedy at sea. More than a dozen people were killed after two boats sank in the Mediterranean Sea. We'll head to Rome for the latest update.


CHURCH: At least 28 migrants have died after two boats sank off the coast of Tunisia on Sunday. They were trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Italy. This as the Italian coast guard says they've rescued thousands of people in the past 48 hours.

For the latest, we want to go to CNN Contributor Barbie Nadeau who joins us live from Rome. So, Barbie, what more are you able to tell us about these two tragedies at sea?

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. You know, this is just another deadly weekend here in the Mediterranean. You know, we're understanding that around 60 people are still missing when those two boats went down. The Italian authorities, Italian coast guard were involved in the rescue of 3300 people on 58 boats between Saturday and Sunday.


People leaving Tunisia trying to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa. Now you have to go back to 2011, the beginning of the Arab Spring to sea. An exodus from Tunisia to this extent. And the Italian authorities are calling on the European Union to try to do something to help us stop the flow of migrants coming out of there to try to deal with the economic situation there that seems to be what is the major driving force out of Tunisia right now.

Most of the time these boats are coming from Libya. We haven't seen as many boats coming from there instead, coming from Tunisia. It's much closer to get to the Italian island of Lampedusa from there. But it's a deadly route, Rosemary, as we've seen years, you know, we've been talking about this for many years. But this is really turning out to be a deadly year so far. Rosemary?

CHURCH: Yes. Most definitely it is such a tragedy for those and their families. Barbie Nadeau joining us there live from Rome. Many thanks. And I'm Rosemary Church. For our international viewers, World Sport is next. And for those of you here in North America, I'll be back with more CNN NEWSROOM in just a moment.