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CNN This Morning

26 Killed, Dozens Hurt As Deadly Tornadoes Sweep Through The South; Biden Approves MS Disaster Declaration After Deadly Tornadoes; Rolling Fork Animal Shelter Destroyed After Tornado Hits MS; More Storms, Including Damaging Winds, Tornadoes Possible Today; Investigation Ongoing Into Cause Of Massive Explosion; Ukraine Says It Has Pushed Russian Forces Back From Key Road; Putin: Russia Will Deploy Tactical Nuclear Weapons To Belarus; Russia's Nuclear Move; Tactical Nuclear Weapons Will be Deployed by Russia to Belarus; Within 48 hours, Five Attacks Against American Troops in Syria Were Launched; Deadly Tornadoes Rip Through Southern U.S., Leaving 26 Dead and Dozens Injured; Report: Book Banning Attempts Reached Record High Last Year; Interview with American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom Director Deborah Caldwell. Aired 7-8a ET

Aired March 26, 2023 - 07:00   ET




AMARA WALKER, CNN HOST: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to CNN This Morning. It is Sunday, March 26. I'm Amara Walker.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: I'm Victor Blackwell. We hope your Sunday is off to a great start. You know, the last time I was on the show on a Sunday, this was the back half of the show that it ended at 8:00. But today, we're starting something special, something new. We're going until 9:00.

WALKER: I think that's because Victor is here.


WALKER: Yes. We need another hour of you --


WALKER: -- and me together.

BLACKWELL: So stay with us. Here's what we're watching this morning.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Devastating. Friends lost, damage. It is heartbreaking.


BLACKWELL: The number of those killed continues to climb after at least 10 tornadoes ripped through the south on Friday. The recovery efforts are now happening as federal resources are moving in. And many of those same areas are facing the threat of another round of severe weather today.


Due to the violence of the explosion and the amount of time that has passed, the chance of finding survivors is decreasing rapidly.


WALKER: At least three people confirmed dead after that candy factory exploded in Pennsylvania. What we know about the explosion and the ongoing efforts to locate those who are still missing.

BLACKWELL: Russian President Vladimir Putin puts the west on notice. He says he will station tactical nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus. So what is Putin hoping to accomplish here? We'll discuss.

WALKER: And the American Library Association says attempts to ban books reached a record high last year. The genres of books that are being targeted and the concerns from educators.

We begin this morning with support pouring into the south after powerful storms spawned 10 tornadoes in Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee. At least 26 people were killed and dozens were injured after the storms pummeled parts of the South Friday night. The mayor of Rolling Fork, Mississippi says his city is gone.

BLACKWELL: For perspective, more people were killed by tornadoes Friday and to the Saturday than in all of last year. Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson's district includes much of the damaged areas. And yesterday, he visited with people affected by the disaster.


REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D), MISSISSIPPI: It was devastation beyond imagination. People were absolutely stunned at what had just occurred. And so, as the night wore on, it was clear that this was something that people had never seen before.


BLACKWELL: President Biden is promising to get federal support to the devastated areas as quickly as possible. The Secretary of Homeland Security is set to tour the area later today, but there's a chance for more punishing storms today. More than 20 million people are under severe weather threats.

WALKER: We have team coverage. CNN's Allison Chinchar and Jasmine Wright are standing by. But we're going to begin with Isabel Rosales, who was on the ground there in Mississippi. Isabel, I mean, we can just tell from the images there behind you how widespread and devastating the damage is. Where do things stand in terms of the rescue and the recovery efforts? ISABEL ROSALES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Amara, Victor, good morning to you both. The latest that we're learning from Mississippi Emergency Management is that the four people who were reported missing statewide have now been accounted for. So really, the focus here has shifted from search and rescue efforts to recovery and rebuilding. And let me tell you, the toll here, that this community of Rolling Fork and Silver City, the toll that they're feeling is tremendous.

Not just because homes and businesses have been decimated, but also because this is a small community. They know one another. They go to church with each other. They go and eat with each other at a restaurant that has now been leveled to Chuck's Dairy Bar.

So a lot of these folks that we were talking to, they either knew of the victims or were actually related to the victims. But what we're seeing is a community coming together. They are sharing their love for one another in spite of this darkness, in spite of this tragedy going around donating food, water, clothing to those less fortunate neighbors.


I want you to now listen to the mayor of Rolling Fork and a businesswoman to what they're saying that they're experiencing and seeing.


MAYOR ELDRIDGE WALKER, ROLLING ROCK, MISSISSIPPI: The state of my town? Devastation. As I look around, families are affected. Homes are torn up, families are without a place to live. Children are hungry, no clothes. We're devastated.

TRACY HARDEN, OWNER, CHUCK'S DAIRY BARN: Just trying to hold it together until we can get everybody safe and OK. Everything here can be replaced, but I want to make sure all those little babies that live back there are OK.


ROSALES: And we have new data from the National Weather Service, they've confirmed that at least 10 tornadoes hit Friday across Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee. They conducted those meteorologists' ground storm surveys, and they found in their preliminary data that one EF-4 tornado hit, one EF-3, three EF-2s and five EF-1s.

Now EF-4s and EF-5s, they are considered violent, and they're also extremely rare. They make up only about 1 percent of all tornadoes. An EF-4, that is what hit Rolling Fork and Silver City. Now look at this super fascinating. The path length, 59 miles, duration, 1 hour and 10 minutes that this thing was on the ground going west to northeast across several counties.

So clearly, with this powerful tornado, this is going to be a long journey ahead to get these communities back to a sense of normalcy. And the good news is that they're getting all sorts of local, state and federal help, from the Red Cross, to FEMA, to official volunteers that have been approved to get them the food and the basic needs that they need here.

And looking ahead, we do have a major press conference happening later today with the governor, Tate Reeves, also the Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell as well. We're expected to get an update to what goes on next in this effort to get this community back to normal.

WALKER: Yes, what struck me with that interview that you just had with that woman, you know, who doesn't know if the babies nearby made it out. I mean, there's probably so much uncertainty regarding your neighbors and if --


WALKER: -- they survived just as you di. It's just so heartbreaking.

Isabel Rosales, thank you very much. Let's go now to Jasmine Wright, who is in Wilmington, Delaware. Jasmine, so as we heard there that we will be seeing federal and state officials on the ground giving some news conferences. We know President Biden has approved an emergency declaration for Mississippi. What do we know about the response that we're going to be seeing at the federal and state levels?

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, Amara. Well, President Biden, he approved that emergency declaration overnight after spending a lot of his Saturday here in Wilmington, really responding to this issue. We first heard from the President in a statement earlier Saturday where he said that he was praying for the families who've lost loved ones and also said that he had reached out to a litany of statewide officials really trying to give his condolences.

He talked to Governor Reeves, Senator Wicker, Senator Hyde-Smith, and also Congressman Bennie Thompson, who we heard from just a few minutes ago. Now, the President said that he asked them really what can the federal government do for the people of Mississippi? What does that state need? And then of course, that he approved that emergency declaration.

Now, the President also talked to FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell about the federal response. And I want you to take a listen to how she said that the federal government is approaching this. Take a listen.


DEANNE CRISWELL, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: It really is, you know, what the state needs, right, and where they have resource gaps. And we'll be able to help support some of those needs and bring in those resources. I think right now, you know, we're partnering really close with the state, and our partners at the American Red Cross are standing up shelters because we know so many people are obviously displaced from their homes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. CRISWELL: And this will give them that immediate shelter, given that that safe place to stay.


WRIGHT: So exactly what that emergency declaration here does is it provides temporary housing, it provides funds for housing repairs, it provides low cost loans for uninsured property damage and other things like that. And it goes to four of the hardest hit counties in Mississippi.

Now, the administration says that this is kind of an ongoing thing and that more counties could be brought into this emergency declaration.


Now, we know that Deanne Criswell as well as DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas will be on the ground today today to survey the area. It's an open question, though, of whether or not President Biden and other Cabinet members will also visit in the following days. Victor, Amara?

BLACKWELL: Jasmine Wright for us there traveling with the President. Thank you so much.

You look at the video and you see people don't have anything tangible left. They had their lives, but their homes, their belongings, all of that destroyed. Also a local animal shelter there in Rolling Fork.

Here with me now is Alex Frisbee, a board member at the South Delta Animal Rescue. Alex, thank you for being with me. I read that the only way that you were able to even recognize where the shelter once stood was by the concrete slab. Is that right? Describe what you saw when you arrived after the tornado.

ALEX FRISBEE, BOARD MEMBER, SOUTH DELTA ANIMAL: When we got there, it was about midnight, the night of the storm. And I've walked down that street, driven down that street multiple times my whole life, and I didn't recognize it. There was nothing that I recognized there. It was just completely gone.

We put a slab up where we had our dogs, where the kennel was, and that was really the only thing that helped us recognize where we were. There was an SUV that was flipped over, upside down on top of where our shelter was. There were trees. It was just like a bomb went off.

BLACKWELL: Were there people around, were there rescues happening? Was that too soon for even the rescues? What do you know about the people nearby?

FRISBEE: We had emergency agencies converge on us very quickly. We had the outpouring of love and support from not only existing, you know, resident communities that are close to us, but all over the state. We've had people that have been there and help. They're helping clean up, they're helping search and rescue.

We're housing Homeland Security at our office in Rolling Fork as their HQ. I know they worked through the night, that night looking for people. It's complete devastation. It's hard to explain the level of destruction until you're there and you've seen something your whole life, and it's -- and in an instant, it's gone.

BLACKWELL: Yes, I've been on scene after tornadoes and hurricanes, and it's hard to get the full scope of loss in the frame when every direction you look, the trees even are ripped and torn in different ways the way that these storms come through. And I don't have the personal connection that you do, having gone to these places and down these streets your entire life.

Let me ask about the animals. Any of the animals that were housed at the shelter. Have any of those been located? Have they been found?

FRISBEE: It was amazing. When we got there, we were able -- we didn't recognize the shelter. There was nothing there that we recognized outside of that concrete slab. We were able to locate three of our dogs when we got there, which was -- we were really surprised and thankful that we were able to locate those.

Other dogs have been located throughout the process. They were running around town. We were able to locate them though, so it's been a successful rescue, I guess, on our part. We are still missing a few dogs. So we just -- we're looking to -- we need to rebuild and that's where we are. That's what we're focusing on now.

We're also focusing on the influx of dogs that are belong to someone. The house is not there anymore and those dogs are running around Rolling Fork. And so we're trying to place those dogs with their owners. And our community has been extremely helpful in doing that.

BLACKWELL: Yes, I can imagine for families that have lost everything. And by thing, obviously, I mean their homes, their clothes, their pictures, if they can find their pet, how cathartic and helpful that would be if that pet is still out there somewhere.


Let me ask you, where were you during the storm? Were you nearby? As a storm this wide and on the ground this long, I can't imagine that it passed you without even any impact.

FRISBEE: We were a couple of 100 yards. I have an office in Rolling Fork. We have -- it was a couple of 100 yards from where the line was. It was complete devastation. And then just on the other side was, you know, we weren't untouched, but we didn't sustain much damage, you know, which has been a blessing.

John Deere's dealership -- John Deer dealership is right next to my office. And that dealership has been used as a headquarters for all of the emergency agencies, for sheriff's offices and everyone that has been involved in the search and rescue. That's their HQ.

Homeland Security is using our office as their HQ to just get some rest. They've got teams working through the day, and so for them to be able to get some rest, they're going in and using our office. So it's -- it really is -- it's awesome to see the outpouring of love and support that we've seen from everyone and everyone coming together. It's --


FRISBEE: -- awesome.

BLACKWELL: Yes, I mean, having to use whatever is left as these headquarters and for places to get -- people to get just a break as there is this work that happens almost around the clock.

Alex Frisbee, thank you for speaking with me and the work you're doing, still working to take care of these animals and try to reunite families with their pets. Thanks so much for your time.

FRISBEE: Absolutely.

BLACKWELL: Millions of people are now bracing for another round of severe weather.

WALKER: Yes, they just can't seem to get a break. CNN Meteorologist Allison Chinchar in the CNN Weather Center. What can they expect, Allison?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Unfortunately, more tornadoes, and we have a very large one on the ground as we speak. Here's a look at the large cluster of storms. You can see that stretches from the Carolinas all the way back into Mississippi.

Lots of these orange boxes here indicating severe thunderstorm warnings. This pink box here indicating a tornado warning southwest of Atlanta, just east of the City of LaGrange, Pine Mountain. The National Weather Service calling this a large and extremely dangerous tornado on the ground.

If you are in this area or just to the east in some of the neighboring communities like Manchester, please get to your basement. This is not the time to start packing things up, this is the time to get down into that lowest level of your home. This has already been crossing at least a few counties with some rotation, and we expect it to continue to cross farther east.

Overall, for the rest of the day, you've got two separate rounds here of thunderstorms. The first one ongoing now that will continue to make its way to the Atlantic Ocean by this afternoon, and a secondary set that will begin in eastern Texas and continue to push off to the east this afternoon.

So multiple rounds here that we're going to have to go through. And yes, severe damaging winds and tornadoes both possible.

WALKER: Gosh. It's unnerving, especially if you live in this area, right? Allison Chinchar, really important, potentially lifesaving information. Thank you so much. All right, and for more information on how you can help the victims of the deadly tornadoes and severe storms that swept through Mississippi, go to

Moving on now to another tragic story. The hope of finding any survivors in a Pennsylvania candy factory is, quote, decreasing rapidly. That is, according to the fire chief in West Reading.

BLACKWELL: At least three people are dead, four others still unaccounted for after a violent explosion on Friday. Investigators are still trying to figure out what happened here, what caused the explosion. CNN's Danny Freeman has the latest on the search efforts.

DANNY FREEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Victor, Amara, this has just been a devastating weekend for the community of West Reading, Pennsylvania. First responders have been working tirelessly through the weekend since Friday afternoon, when this explosion happened at the R.M. Chocolate Company to try and find survivors.

But as you see the video, the explosion was truly intense. Residents told us it felt like an earthquake happens nearby. Now again, this area is the R.M. Palmer chocolate factory. It's a chocolate company that is well known in this area, well regarded, employs more than 800 people. But again, that explosion was quite intense.

This turned into a multi-agency operation. The governor was even here on Saturday morning. He deployed state resources like structural engineers and search and rescue specialists to get out on this scene. And the challenge was here that there was some hope mixed in with all of the sadness.

Overnight on Friday night, one survivor was actually pulled from the rubble, and that's why search and rescue crews were working so hard all day on Saturday. But again, there was also that sadness and fear because we spoke with a man who was worried that his sister was among those trapped inside. Take a listen.



FRANKIE GONZALEZ, SISTER IS MISSING IN WRECKAGE: I'm hoping that she found a spot that she could hide in. And, you know, it's been cold. You know, it was cold last night and raining today. And, you know, I'd be happy that she was just colder, wet, you know, hiding in a spot. I don't want to hear the worst, you know. They tell you to prepare for the worst, you know, but it's not something you want to prepare for.


FREEMAN: Now, we did receive a statement from the chocolate company, from R.M. Palmer. They said that everyone is devastated in that organization. And I will read this quote. "We have lost close friends and colleagues, and our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of all who have been impacted." Victor, Amara?

WALKER: Danny Freeman, thank you.

Up next, the bloody battle for the city of Bakhmut rages on as the Ukrainian military says it's holding its ground. We're going to take you there live to Ukraine.

BLACKWELL: Also, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has just been released from a physical therapy rehab facility after his fall a couple of weeks ago. We have an update on his condition.



WALKER: The Russian mercenary group Wagner says its forces have captured a metal plant in the city of Bakhmut as a bloody battle for control of that city rages on. The Ukrainian military says it has pushed Russian troops away from a key road in Bakhmut.

CNN Senior International Correspondent Ben Wedeman joining us now live from Kyiv.

BLACKWELL: Ben, give us the update, the latest on the fighting in eastern Ukraine in this battle for Bakhmut.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Victor, Amara the situation in Bakhmut is precarious, to say the least. The Russian attempt to take that town has been going on now for seven months, and slowly the Russians have been gaining territory, despite this claim by the Ukrainians that they've been able to push the Russians back from that one remaining road, allowing Ukrainian forces access to Bakhmut.

We spoke this morning with an official spokesman with the Ukrainian forces in the eastern part of the country who said that essentially the Russians do not lack for artillery shells and seem to be using them quite indiscriminately.

At this point, we understand that there are just 4,000 civilians somehow surviving in that city. I was there earlier this year and the situation was bad then, and you can only imagine how it is now that things have gotten so much worse.

It does appear that the focus of Russian efforts maybe switching to the city of Avdiivka, which is about 35 miles south of Bakhmut, where we understand that the Russians are using -- are intensifying their use of aircraft, airstrikes against Ukrainian positions in that town and that they've been able to cut some of the supply routes.

Now it's important to note that Avdiivka is relatively close to the city of Donetsk, which has been under Russian control since 2014. So it's very accessible to Russian supply lines. And it may appear that after the struggle of the Russians to try to take Bakhmut, they're refocusing efforts to take the city of Avdiivka. Victor, Amara?

WALKER: Ben Wedeman, I appreciate your reporting there as always. Thank you very much, Ben. So the U.S. and Ukraine are reacting to Vladimir Putin's plan to station, to move tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus. In an interview on state television, Putin said Moscow will maintain control of those weapons and the plan would not violate any nonproliferation agreements. So what's the point of all this? What does Putin hope to accomplish?

Let's bring in CNN Global Affairs Analyst Kimberly Dozier. Kim, what is Vladimir Putin up to?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, he's certainly sending a signal that he's doubling down on the war in Ukraine. Putin can reach Ukraine and other parts of Europe with tactical nuclear weapons that he already has in Russia nearby. And we also have knowledge of the tactical nuclear weapons that Russia has deployed in Kaliningrad, which is in the area as well.

But it sends a signal that he is going to put assets into the region to further menace Ukraine, further control Belarus. And it's also an answer to the U.S. modernizing its tactical nuclear weapon program across Europe, which has stepped up since the launch of the invasion into Ukraine.

WALKER: It's the first time since the 90s that we're seeing Russia actually deploy its nuclear weapons outside its borders. And we do want to mention that Belarus, I mean, if you just look at the map, right, its borders three NATO countries, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia, and, of course, Ukraine as well. Is this also a move to, you know, shift attention away from the fact that Russia has dealt with several setbacks and Putin is just frustrated?

DOZIER: It certainly could be, but when you take it together with a couple of different things, the Russian announcement that they're going to be revamping, upgrading, and providing 1,600 tanks to the battlefield in Ukraine, which is much greater in number than Ukraine can field.

And also President Zelenskyy gave an interview to a newspaper over the past weekend saying that he cannot conduct, he cannot send his forces into a spring offensive until some of the weapons that the west has promised have arrived.

From the Ukrainian perspective, they've lost a lot of trained people on the battlefield in recent months.


Including a lot of the people who had been trained by NATO in the run up to this latest Russian invasion of Ukrainian territory, and morale is low. They want to see some of these new technologies, some of this advanced tank hardware coming in. Because what it does is it gives the Ukrainians an advantage in terms of the number of people to their lethality. The better the technology, the more of the other side, you can take off the battlefield. And Ukraine simply doesn't have the numbers that Russia does to just throw into this fight. AMARA WALKER, CNN NEW DAY WEEKEND ANCHOR: What is Washington's perspective on all of this, you know, because you make a good point. I mean, this obviously, you know, is happening at a time when morale is quite low in Kyiv, as you say. And we heard Zelenskyy say, look, I'm not going to do anything. No. No spring offensive until, you know, you all on the west send us more ammunition and weapons. What is the Biden administration, how are they looking at these moves?

DOZIER: Well, from the defense department's perspective, they have issued a statement saying that there's, you know, nothing to see here. They're not having to change their defense posture because of this. But it does tell the Biden administration that things are getting desperate in Kyiv, and that Putin is, despite the recent Hague arrest announcement, despite all of the sanctions that they've thrown at him, he is determined. And so, they're going to have to keep their alliance together to keep the pressure on and keep Ukraine supplied as this war stretches into possibly years to come.

WALKER: And if you will, can really, I do want to ask you about another story, and this would be the strikes by Iranian backed forces in Syria. So, there were five attacks against U.S. troops in Syria in just a period of 48 hours. What do you make of the situation? Where do you see it going?

DOZIER: Well, we don't know how much these groups that the Pentagon says are Iranian-backed have a direct communication route to Tehran. How much they're taking direct orders. It could be, what we're seeing is a tactical tip for tat playing out on the ground. But there has been a pipeline of sophisticated weaponry going from Iran across Iraq to these Iranian supplied groups inside Syria.

And basically, this is a place where Iran can fight back against U.S. forces where it can't in other parts of the world. To, sort of, strike back in what we call the gray zone beneath the threshold of actual all out declared war and make the U.S. feel some pain for the pain the U.S. is inflicting on Tehran in terms of sanctions and continued economic measures to make that country stop its nuclear weapons program.

WALKER: Got it. We're going to have to leave the conversation there. Kimberly Dozier. Always great to have you. Thank you.

DOZIER: Thanks.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN NEWSROOM ANCHOR: Still ahead, at least 10 confirmed tornadoes touched down across the south on Friday, including an EF-4. It's exceedingly rare for a storm -- a tornado that strong to touch down. We'll talk about how rare it is next.



WALKER: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will be working from home this week. He was released from a rehabilitation facility on Saturday where he'd been recovering from the fall earlier this month. According to a statement from his office, McConnell will be consulting with his physical therapists about when he can return to the Senate. But a source tells CNN he's not expected to be back before they leave for their two-week recess after this week.

BLACKWELL: The Biden administration is, again, searching for a nominee to lead the FAA. Phillip Washington withdrew his nomination to the position on Saturday. A White House official says, Washington took himself out of the running after an onslaught of Republican attacks. His nomination has been criticized over potential legal entanglements and what some saw as a lack of aviation credentials.

This weekend, severe weather which left at least 26 people dead could turn out to be the deadliest day of tornadoes in the U.S. since Mayfield, Kentucky, that tornado in December of 2021.

WALKER: I remember that clearly. The National Weather Service has confirmed at least 10 tornadoes touched down across the south on Friday, including an EF-4 tornado, which is on the ground for at least 59 miles in Mississippi. Meteorologist Allison Chinchar is here to tell us more about this type of EF-4 tornadoes and how and why they're considered extremely rare. But just thinking about how wide the stretch of this tornado was, and the fact that was on the ground for over an hour.


ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, let's put that in perspective. OK.


CHINCHAR: So, the average tornado is only on the ground for less than 10 minutes. This one was an hour and 10 minutes. It went for 59 miles in length, the average just about three miles. So, that just kind of goes to show you the scope of this tornado in like specifically, it's an EF-4. EF-4s and 5s are deemed violent, that's the term we use from the National Weather Service. They make up only about one percent of all total tornadoes. So, just to kind of tell you how rare they are.

The last time Mississippi itself saw an EF-4 was April of 2020. So, you're looking just about three years since they've last had an EF-4. And an EF-4, specifically, you look at the wind indicator right there, it ranges from about 166 to 200 miles per hour. This one they estimate was about 170. So, again, kind of right there in the middle of that scale.

But they looked through the damage. When you see all the video that we've been showing, the photos of what the damage has been from this specific tornado, part of the reason they can give it, they deem it that EF-4 is things they are looking for are well constructed homes that are just leveled. Also, cars when you can pick up a car and use it as a projectile, that's another very good indicator of an EF-4 or at least an EF-4 in this particular case.

So, they do, these survey crews will go out. They're still not done with this tornado, by the way, and a lot of that has to do with the length. But people tend to forget is they have to walk this path. You can't take a car for that 59 miles, mostly because the roads are blocked in some way, but again, it's it makes it very difficult for them to get to it.


So, they have to walk pretty much the whole thing to assess the damage.

BLACKWELL: I never knew that --

WALKER: I don't know that either.

BLACKWELL: -- they had to walk that entire path. So, obviously there is the cleanup from Friday and all of that's coming with that. But what's the threat today?

CHINCHAR: Very similar. We've got two separate rounds that we're talking about the one that's ongoing, which has already brought in some tornado warnings and severe thunderstorm warnings to this particular area. It's starting like damage reports starting to come in from some areas just southwest of Atlanta. But again, that first wave will move through the southeast this morning. Then we have a secondary wave that will arrive later this afternoon, starting in East Texas and then pushing through some of the same states all over again.

WALKER: Oh, man.

BLACKWELL: All right. Allison Chinchar. Thanks so much.

Well, coming up a record number of book ban attempts were reported last year. Some states try to restrict certain publications in schools and libraries. The director for the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom will join us to discuss.



BLACKWELL: Attempts to ban books at schools and libraries reached record highs in 2022, that's according to the American Library Association. The group says, it tracked 1,269 challenges last year, the highest number in the 20 years that it's been keeping track and nearly doubling the attempts in 2021. The majority of titles facing challenges were written by about or -- about members, I should say, of the LGBT community and people of color. We're joined now by, Deborah Caldwell-Stone, she is a director of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom.

Thank you for being with us. I want to start here with the genre and then we'll broaden the conversation. The fact that the majority of the books are about the LGBT community and people of color suggests what to you about the motivations of these challenges to books.

DEBORAH CALDWELL, DIRECTOR, AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION'S OFFICE FOR INTELLECTUAL FREEDOM: I think what we're seeing is effort to establish a status quo that existed maybe 50 years ago or maybe later. A message of exclusion for those in the community. Libraries are community institutions, whether they're school libraries or public libraries. And when your books are taken off the shelf, when people tell you that those books are inappropriate or wrong, it really sends a strong message that you're not approved of, that you're not part of the community.

And I think that's an element of the message about why these books are being challenged as a means of expressing disapproval. Stigmatizing the books and stigmatizing the persons whose lives they represent and ultimately advancing both the political and moral agenda that represents the beliefs of the challengers.

BLACKWELL: And 90 percent of the books, according to the ALA were attempts to censor multiple titles. So, it's not like someone reads a book that their child has in school and says, I think this book goes over the line because I've read it. And I think for my child or for children, this is an appropriate. They come with lists of books that that they want stripped from schools. So, this is not about a line in the book. This is not about a single storyline, although some people suggest it is. What does that stat suggest?

CALDWELL: Well, what that suggests to me is that -- that's, you know, the evidence in our numbers, that 90 percent of the challenges were challenges to multiple child. And 40 percent of the challenges in 2022 were to 200 titles or more suggests a political campaign. An effort to really go after a large number of books that don't meet a group's political approval, moral approval and wipe them from the shelves, sanitize the library of those titles to reflect their views, their beliefs.

And it also does mean, as you said, that they're not reading the books. They're going after these books because of the fact that they expressed viewpoints they don't agree with, reflect lives that they don't agree with, and ultimately, you know, just a campaign to impose one viewpoint on an entire community, take away the choice to read from an entire community.

BLACKWELL: Can you reconcile two things for me from the ALA? We know that the House passed the parents bill of rights this week. And in this press release about the banned books of 2022, you're quoted as saying "The choice of what to read must be left to the reader, or in the case of children, to parents." Now, the parents bill of rights, they say that or it requires schools to provide parents with a list of books and reading materials in the school library.

But the ALA opposes that legislation. Saying that if this bill became law, it would provide book banners another tool and leverage point to censor materials in libraries. If the ALA believes that it's up to parents to determine what their children read, why oppose the bill that requires the lists of the reading materials be provided to parents?

CALDWELL: Well, Victor, that bill imposes a huge administrative burden on schools and school libraries that ultimately don't serve the purpose for which they're stated. Already any parent can log in to school libraries catalog and see the list of books that's on the library shelf.


Already librarians are anxious to work with parents to talk to them, to help them guide their child's reading. It's a solution in search of a problem that simply doesn't exist. But what it will do is empower these political groups, these political advocacy campaigns that are seeking to impose censorship on school libraries and on public libraries to remove books that represent the lives of marginalized communities.

And that narrow our ability to read to one political viewpoint, which no one should be able to do. Ultimately, we believe in each reader's ability to choose books for themselves. Each family, each parent to choose books for themselves without telling them what to read. And frankly, with this parent -- you know what we're seeing is elected officials creating rules, creating schemes that allow one group to dictate what the entire community reads. And what we -- we simply don't want that we want a preserved choice for everyone. And we really think that everyone should be prepared to fight against censorship in their local school or in their local public library, because it's very much is a local, too.

BLACKWELL: We should also say that the parents bill of rights that's passed by the House is likely going nowhere in the Senate. Deborah Caldwell-Stone with the ALA. Thank you so much for being with us. And we'll be right back.



WALKER: Be sure to tune in for the exciting new CNN original series, "Eva Longoria: Searching for Mexico". It premieres tonight on CNN. Here's a preview.


EVA LONGORIA, "EVA LONGORIA: SEARCHING FOR MEXICO" HOST: I don't know the secret to happiness. All I know is every time I eat Mexican food, I'm happy.

LONGORIA (voiceover): I'm Eva Longoria, born and bred in Texas with Mexican-American roots.

LONGORIA (on camera): I'm going to get a t shirt that says, more of salsa.

LONGORIA (voiceover): I'm exploring Mexico to see how the people, their lands, and their past have shaped a culinary tradition as diverse as its 32 states.

LONGORIA (on camera): We're here today.

Today, we are going to be making our food pilgrimage. Look at that. I don't know if I've ever been this excited to eat anything. How do I do this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Cut it like -- like this.

LONGORIA (on camera): I was going to do this, that's why.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): You can also do that.

LONGORIA (voiceover): The people here are so secure in who they are and where they come from.

LONGORIA (through translator): You are an artist.

But you guys are amazing storytellers.


LONGORIA (voiceover): Mexico is going through a major makeover to emerge as one of the world's greatest food destinations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know what brings people to Mexico? The food culture, they fell in love with it.

LONGORIA (through translator): Long live Mexico.

ANNOUNCER: "Eva Longoria: Searching for Mexico" premieres tonight at 10:00 p.m. on CNN.