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CNN This Morning

26 Killed, Dozens Hurt As Deadly Tornadoes Sweep Through The South; Investigation Ongoing Into Cause Of Massive Explosion; Trump Rallies In Texas Amid Growing Legal Woes; Putin: Russia Will Deploy Tactical Nuclear Weapons To Belarus; Forecast For More Rain, Heavy Snow In California This Week. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired March 26, 2023 - 08:00   ET




VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. It's good to have you. Welcome to CNN THIS MORNING.

It's Sunday, March 26th. I'm Victor Blackwell.

AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: Victor, good to be with you. I'm Amara Walker.

Don't be confused. It is 8:00 a.m. in the East and we are supposed to be here. The two of us, for good. So you're stuck with us.


WALKER: CNN THIS MORNING WEEKEND is now on from 6:00 to 9:00 a.m. Eastern on Sundays.

And thank you so much for spending some of your morning with us.

Here is what we're watching this morning.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got my wife, we got in the tub, covered our heads. By the time we did that, the storm was coming over and all we could hear was the house breaking apart.


WALKER: Just some terrifying moments. We're hearing about the death toll continuing to go up after at least 10 tornadoes ripped through the South Friday. The recovery efforts along with the rescue efforts underway as federal resources are moving in.

And we're tracking the threat of more severe storms today.


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


BLACKWELL: At least three people are confirmed dead after a candy factory exploded in Pennsylvania. We'll talk to a woman who lives nearby about what she saw and felt the moment of the explosion.

WALKER: Plus, Donald Trump goes back on the campaign trail and back on the attack against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the slew of investigations he is facing.

BLACKWELL: Russian President Vladimir Putin is putting the West on defense. He says he will station tactical nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus. What is Putin up to? We'll talk about it.

We're starting, though, with the support that's coming into the South after powerful storms spawned 10 tornadoes in Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee, at least 26 people were killed. Dozens were injured after the storms pummeled part of the south Friday night.

The mayor of Rolling Fork, Mississippi, simply says his city is gone.

WALKER: For prospective, just consider this: more people were killed by tornadoes on Friday into Saturday than all of last year. Mississippi Congressman Bernie Thompson's district includes much of those damaged areas, and yesterday, he visited with the people affected by this disaster.


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


WALKER: President Biden is promising to get federal support to the devastated area as quickly as possible, and the secretary of homeland security is set to tour the area later today, but there is a chance for more punishing storms today, more than 20 million people under threat of severe weather.

BLACKWELL: The team is covering this. CNN's Allison Chinchar and Jasmine Wright are standing by. We're starting, though, with Isabel Rosales live in Mississippi.

We're getting the sun up now and getting a deeper view of what is behind you there and how much work is ahead for the community of Rolling Fork.

Talk to us about rescue and recovery.

ISABEL ROSALES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. Good morning to you, Victor and Amara. And here, about four hours, we should get an update as to the impact of this tornado that has devastated, rolling for silver city and other nearby communities. That will be a press conference with the Governor Tate Reeves and also higher level leaders from the Department of Homeland Security and from FEMA as well.


The latest information that we've got from Mississippi Emergency Management is that the four people statewide who were reported missing have now been accounted for. Still, this is going to be a long journey ahead for these communities as they begin this process of cleaning up and rebuilding.

The good news is that they've got a lot of help local, state and federal agencies like FEMA and the Red Cross handing out food, handing out water clothing, helping out with temporary housing.


ROSALES (voice-over): Powerful storms and at least one tornado pummeled the southeast on Friday night, nearly leveling some neighborhoods and knocking out power for thousands, officials said.

The confirmed tornado touched down in Mississippi, where the damage and death toll had been most severe search and rescue efforts for storm victims began after the tornado struck the towns of Silver City and Rolling Fork.

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

ROSALES: The city of Rolling Fork is in Sharkey County, the origin of many of the storm fatalities. CNN has reported.

Tracy Harden and her husband owned Chuck's Dairy Bar in Rolling Fork.

TRACY HARDEN, OWNER, CHUCK'S DAIRY BAR: We don't know where everybody is. We don't know who's alive and who's gone and just -- just trying to hold it together.

ROSALES: Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves issued a state of emergency in all counties affected by the severe storms, according to a release. State agencies led the search for victims and FEMA has arrived to help with the recovery.

DEANNE CRISWELL, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: Right now, we still are in a lifesaving life sustaining mode, and we want to make sure that the state has everything that they need, and as we work to make sure that no additional lives are lost, I think is used watching the images and I'm watching these images. That's just heartbreaking to see the devastation that this community and have sustained.

ROSALES: The tornado that flattened much of the community of Rolling Fork was rated the strength of EF-4, according to a member of the national weather service team surveying the damage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even though we lost everything, this stuff can be replaced. Material things can be replaced, but to lose a loved one. It was just heart-wrenching.


ROSALES (on camera): Let me go a little bit further into that new data from the National Weather Service who sent out meteorologists conduct storm and serving analysis taking a look at all of this debris left behind and they concluded based on the preliminary data that at least 10 tornadoes struck three states, Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee, including one EF-4 tornado. That's the one that hit where I'm standing, Rolling Fork, and Silver City as well.

And what you've got to know about EF-4s and EF-5s, which we do not see in this case is that these are extremely rare and very violent. These EF-4s and EF-5s make up about 1 percent of all tornadoes that hit the U.S.

Also interesting here is that this tornado, the path length, look at this, 59 miles and the duration that it lasted on the ground was an hour and 10 minutes going west to northeast across several counties. And clearly, as we're standing here, the devastation it left behind is tremendous -- Amara, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Yeah, those statistics are remarkable to think that this was on the ground for more than an hour when we learned from Allison Chinchar just minutes ago. Less than 10 minutes is the average for a tornado on the ground.

Isabel Rosales for us in Rolling Fork, thank you.

Jasmine Wright, you're up next, let's go to Wilmington, Delaware. You are traveling there with the president.

President Biden has approved an emergency declaration from Mississippi. We know that federal resources have already arrived. More are on the way.

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yeah, that's right. Look, President Biden, he approved that emergency declaration overnight after spending his Saturday here in Wilmington's really dedicated to responding to this issue. We first heard from the president earlier on Saturday in a statement where he said that he was praying for those who have lost their loved ones, and he also said that he talked to a litany of statewide officials and that included Governor Reeves, that included Senator Wicker, Senator Hyde Smith and also Congressman Bennie Thompson.

Now the White House said that the president asked them what can the federal government do for the people of Mississippi. What does that state need, as well as committing more federal assistance. Now we also know that the president spoke to FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell who told CNN that really what the focus was here was connecting with those local officials and state officials to give the state what they needed as well as entities like the Red Cross.


We know that she as well as DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas will be on the scene, surveying that site later.

Now when it comes to that emergency declaration, what did all encompass? Of course, it encompasses four counties, including Sharkey County, which were the hardest hit in Mississippi, and it does things like provide temporary housing, provide money for housing repairs, provide low cost loans to uninsured property damage and other things trying to release set this community right in the days ahead.

Now an open question, of course, is whether or not the president or other cabinet officials go in the following days, but the administration wants Americans to know that, of course, this is top of mind for them and that they are responding quickly to assess the needs of the people and give them those needs from the federal government.

WALKER: All right. Jasmine Wright, thank you for that.

You know much of the storm's destruction was felt in hard hit Humphreys County, where at least one tornado touched down in Silver City. Joining me now was one of the county's supervisors, Woodrow Johnson.

Mr. Johnson. We know that those are the two towns that were the hardest hit, at least from what we know right now. Silver City and also Rolling Fork.

How are the people in your town doing this morning?

WOODROW JOHNSON, HUMPHREYS COUNTY, MS, BOARD OF SUPERVISORS (via telephone): Well, people in my town, they still coming to the fact that they have nowhere to live. I mean, it's kind of setting in now and so far the token in that, yeah. Just lost the worries and they don't know what to do right now, but we have got them. We'll get them through it.

WALKER: Yeah, I can only imagine people are still in a state of shock.

When we spoke with you yesterday, around this time, Mr. Johnson, you are mentioning that you witnessed some terrible things happen to your neighbors, the walls caving in. Do you have any more updates on what happened to them?

JOHNSON: Well, the one incident is what to devastate morning was where trailer house springs flew into a home and pinned up young man and his wife in the house and they would rescue team but they immediately trying to get it. But it was it was just a horrific thing and gas smell and everything, but there were no lights and power, but just that was the most heartbreaking thing that anymore could ever want to imagine, and see my heart and my prayers still goes out to that family. It's hard for me to even speak of it anymore.

WALKER: Yeah, and thank you for filling us in on that.

You know, when you just look at these pictures and knowing the fact that this tornado was 59 miles long, that's the path of destruction. And I mean, even in the pictures were seeing it's hard to see anything standing.

How are you spending your days and it must be challenging, just going from oh, I can't even say house to house because it no longer standing, but I guess how are you assessing the damage?

JOHNSON: Well, we're just taking it one step at a time. When we see need done, we just do it. Everybody is just coming together. I'm thinking too, and very thankful for all of the agencies. All the outreach love from everywhere. I just can't imagine the outreach of love and affection throughout the country that's been coming into this small town.

And, we're just blessed that we're still alive and standing and, it's just -- it's hard and difficult for me to just speak on it.

WALKER: Could you give us an update on the numbers, sir? Obviously, these are lives we're talking about. But in Humphreys County, do you know that the number of people who have died as a result of these tornadoes and how many are may still be unaccounted for? Are they all accounted for?

JOHNSON: (INAUDIBLE) civilians that are accounted. Well, I know, confirm with two fatalities. I know, but it could be three more. I'm not -- not on it quite, that you would be on that one.

WALKER: What would you like President Biden to know as federal resources are pouring in? You know, we spoke with the volunteer this morning with the Cajun navy and he was saying everything is needed that they're bringing in portable showers and restrooms and baby food and supplies.

What are the biggest needs right now that you want the federal government to know?

JOHNSON: Well, we have a few houses still stand and then they could use generators and things to keep their food and stuff going, and we need to talk to put on the house until we can get roof put on them and main thing we need shut up the house is if we can get some kind of hood houses in somewhere, we can get out real in this back and they can be closed by where they can start rebuilding their homes.


That's the main thing we need right now.

WALKER: Well, hang in there. Thank you so much Woodrow Johnson for talking with us this morning, and you know, we hope you get help us as soon as you can. Thank you.

JOHNSON: Yeah, thank you for having me and I just want to thank the whole world for the love it did show on Silver City. WALKER: Thank you.

Well, we're tracking severe storms that are firing up again this morning.

BLACKWELL: CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar is in the weather center.

Many of the areas that are under threat today are the same places that we're watching all this destruction in from Friday.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, this is going to feel like deja vu to a lot of folks that either had storms yesterday or they had them on Friday. Right now, the biggest concern stretches from the Carolinas all the way back through Alabama and Mississippi.

That target point really right here. The strongest storms, at least at the moment are an Alabama and Georgia. That's where we have a tornado watch as well as a severe thunderstorm. Watch lots of these orange squares you see here, indicating severe thunderstorm warnings. We are tornado warning free at the moment, but we have had several so far already and that is likely going to continue throughout the day because we have two separate waves of storms.

This is the first one that's going to make its way through this morning and then a secondary one that will begin in east Texas this afternoon and then begin to push east into some of these very same states all over again as we push through the afternoon and evening hours.

That concerns, however, for both rounds is going to be the same. You're still talking damaging winds, the potential for very large hail. We're talking tennis ball size or even larger. And yes, the potential for a couple tornadoes all within this area you see here, but that does include the community of Rolling Fork that was just hit on Friday, and some other areas of Alabama and Georgia that were hit this morning.

So, again a lot of these rounds of showers and thunderstorms coming through these areas again, there's the first one followed by the second one. Another concern, too, Amara and Victor is also the compounding nature of all this rain could lead to some localized flooding.

BLACKWELL: All right. Allison Chinchar watching it for us, Allison, thank you.

Listen, we just heard from Mr. Johnson that he wanted to thank the whole world for the outpouring of love, but you've seen the pictures they need more than love. But if you want information about how you can help the victims of the tornado and the severe storms that swept through, go to

At least three people are dead after an explosion ripped through a candy factory in Pennsylvania. Coming up, we'll talk to a woman who lives just a few blocks away what she saw and what she felt just ahead.

Also, former President Donald Trump hit the campaign trail in Texas, and aside from the usual grievances, he made some concerning comments about the war in Ukraine.



BLACKWELL: Three people are dead and four others are missing after an explosion at a candy factory in the town of Reading, Pennsylvania. It's been more than 36 hours since the explosion happened, and officials say an investigation into exactly what led to it is ongoing.

Let's bring in now. Kristen Wisniewski. She lives a few blocks away from the factory. She's on the phone with us.

Thank you for taking a few minutes.

The video is dramatic. I can only imagine when you heard and felt this what went through your mind? Explain what it felt like, what it sounded like.

KRISTEN WISNIEWSKI, LIVES NEAR EXPLODED FACTORY (via telephone): Good morning. It's actually undescribable. It felt like the ground fell out from underneath you. And the boom that it made was so intense. It shook you off your feet, not to the ground, but definitely off balance.

BLACKWELL: What did you think was happening?

WISNIEWSKI: I had no idea. We do live also close to a major hospital nearby. I thought maybe something happened at the hospital, but I had no idea. We had no idea.

BLACKWELL: Was there any -- did you feel it? Was there any damage to your house windows break or anything?

WISNIEWSKI: We definitely felt the ground shake. There was no damage to my house. But a few of my neighbors did say that their front doors flew open.

BLACKWELL: What did you see when you went outside?

WISNIEWSKI: When I ran out front, all of my neighbors also came out on the block, and we were all wondering what happened and comforting each other, making sure you know, everyone on our close knit block was okay and we pulled out our local Facebook page and saw there what happened?

BLACKWELL: And when you saw what happened, what went through your mind?

WISNIEWSKI: It was just -- I was in a panic. I didn't know what to think. We didn't know what happened if it was something within the company, or, we had no idea what to think. It was just a very scary moment for all of us.

BLACKWELL: Do you know people who work there?

WISNIEWSKI: I do not personally. I thought my neighbor worked in that building. But she does not.

BLACKWELL: As I said the investigation into the cause is still ongoing. Are there any concerns about the safety beyond just the factory?

WISNIEWSKI: No, the local borough of West Reading has kept us very informed, and they have told us that there is no additional worries beyond that area.

BLACKWELL: What did it -- when you started talking with your neighbor, tell me about some of those conversations? Because I can only imagine that explosion that you hear and feel and in those moments you have no idea what's going on in this climate. What were you all saying to one another?

WISNIEWSKI: I'm just making sure that we were all okay within. Like I said, our block would have a very tight knit block here. We live on a dead end street, so we're very close, and, even the neighbor at the end of the block too often you don't see, he even came out and was asking if we knew what was going on.


And then once we found out, everyone kind of went their separate ways in their homes to kind of get their thoughts together because it was just -- it was scary.

BLACKWELL: Just for the -- to understand how far this could be felt. I keep saying that you're a few blocks away. How many blocks are you from? This Palmer Factory?

WISNIEWSKI: I would say about three possibly four blocks away from there.

BLACKWELL: Okay. Kristen Wisniewski, thank you so much for helping us. Understand it. The video again is so dramatic. I can I can only imagine what it felt like when it exploded.

Thank you for your time. I'm glad you're safe.

WISNIEWSKI: Thank you so much.

WALKER: Yeah. I mean, when you see the video looks like a bomb went off something.


WALKER: Still to come, former President Trump back on the campaign trail and a slew of legal investigations, including potential indictment. We're going to dive into the legal implications he faces next with our Michael Moore. He is in studio. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


WALKER: Donald Trump is back on the campaign trail, holding his first rally of the 2024 campaign on Saturday in Texas.

BLACKWELL: Yes. As you know, the former president faces a slew of legal investigations, including a potential indictment for his alleged role in hush money payments paid to adult film star Stormy Daniels.

CNN's Kristen Holmes has more for us now.


KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thousands and thousands of people showed up in Waco, Texas for former president Donald Trump's first campaign rally of this season since he announced his third presidential bid.

The former president talked at length about the numerous investigations he is facing, including that one in New York where there is a potential indictment.

Take a listen.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The district attorney of New York under the auspices and direction of the Department of injustice in Washington, D.C. was investigating me for something that is not a crime, not a misdemeanor, not an affair.

HOLMES: Now, in recent days, those investigations have seemed to escalate. In addition to the investigation in New York, a potential indictment in that hush money probe, we've also seen former President Trump's personal defense attorney Evan Corcoran made to appear before a federal grand jury in that Mar-a-Lago documents case.

We also know that a federal judge has now ordered several of Trump's former aides, including Mark Meadows, his former chief of staff to testify in the special counsel's investigation into January 6th.

But I will tell you, we spoke to dozens of people who were there to see Donald Trump and almost all of them told us that not only wouldn't indictment not impact them at all, but that they believed it would make Trump stronger.

And this is something that we have heard from a number of Republicans. They believe that at least in a contested primary, this kind of potential indictment will make him stronger.

However there are still a lot of questions about what this will mean in the long term.

Kristen Holmes, Waco, Texas, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLACKWELL: All right, let's dig deeper now into these investigations. Joining us now to discuss former U.S. attorney Michael Moore is also a partner at the Moore Hall law firm. Good to see you see you.


BLACKWELL: Yes. Let me talk about what's coming up in the immediate future.

Monday, the grand jury and the Manhattan D.A. investigation. They will reconvene. Are we beyond the point of potentially more witnesses to testify. Are we now waiting for the determination if there will be an indictment?

MOORE: You know -- and I'm glad to be with both of you this morning. I really think we're probably at the point where he's just buttoning a couple of things up -- he, being the prosecutor. You know, you saw a little delay last week. There was this question about was Cohen's testimony called into question by a previous witness.

And so it may be just cleaning up. This could be something as simple as having a lawyer scheduling conflicts and clients scheduling conflicts and need them to come back the next week.

I don't think there's any chance in the world that he just shuts it down now without moving forward. So I think this is probably to close that week and you're likely to see indictments.

WALKER: Do you think his case has been weakened slightly, possibly by Robert Costello, the former lawyer of Michael Cohen, who was there on Monday, I believe, to basically undercut Michael Cohen's credibility. I mean do you think he's going to have to call more witnesses to strengthen the case on this hush money stuff?

MOORE: So I don't think the D.A. is bound just to Cohen. I don't think you'd ever want to just build a case on somebody who basically had made some admissions about not telling the truth before so I think he's got other evidence, and clearly he does.


MOORE: So you know, this is just information coming out. It really is not going to affect the grand jury. The grand jury can hear it and make a decision. But remember, they're only deciding probable cause. Is there enough information to move the case to trial so they don't have to weigh the credibility of the witnesses to decide if somebody's guilty. They just have to say is there -- is there enough here to move us to the next step?

BLACKWELL: I heard you say on air, and I'm glad that we booked you because I've been wanting to ask you this. I could have texted you but I want to ask you this question on television.

You've said on air that you wish that if there are indictments coming that one of the other stronger cases would come first, and they could just get in the room and figure it out. MOORE: Right.

BLACKWELL: What is the line between cooperation between these investigations and conspiracy -- not criminal conspiracy. But not you know, you go first. Because your case is stronger, that they're trying to get this and then it becomes political.

MOORE: Yes. This is -- there's no question that the prosecutors have to be thinking about how do we sustain a conviction if we get one on appeal. And so you've got to be thinking already about what are the strong points in my case? What are the weak points in my case? Where will I be attacked by definitive in their lawyers.

So I think this is a discussion already going on internally with themselves. I'm just saying that as a group, they need to make a decision about which case is going to be sort of the flagship to move things forward.

This is a historical prosecution. If in fact one happens, I think it will. And there's no question that it's going to end up at the Supreme Court.


MOORE: So do you want to take a weaker case? A smaller case over $100,000 and whether or not maybe it's a misdemeanor and maybe it's a felony and move that to the court? Or do you want to talk more about trying to actually influence elections officials in the state?

And that's why I think that the special counsel's case, because of the breadth that he has and he could go jurisdiction to jurisdiction. He can bring all this in. Plus, it's seen, I think, as a little bit less political simply because he's not an elected D.A.

WALKER: What are you thinking, not only if you're Trump but also if you're one of his many attorneys considering, you know, just the rulings recently where Trump can no longer hide behind executive privilege and attorney-client privilege.

MOORE: You know, it was it's unusual to actually have a judge say that a lawyer has got to come forward, but the judge was satisfied that there may be some evidence that this was part of a crime fraud exception and there are some reasons that you could bring and breach the attorney-client privilege. So I think it's probably fair game. I mean when you see these kind of rulings, you know that we're moving closer to some conclusion.

I think they're trying to tell the court, you know, we'd like to get this information in. We want to kind of button this down and we're not fishing. And how do we know they're not fishing? How do we know it's not early? Because the judge would have never let him go talk to the lawyer unless there was already substantial evidence about the case in the record. So this to me seems like sort of to close that thing.

I don't think it's a safe place for any lawyer to be to be called in and have to divulge what your client told you. And it's -- and it is a sacrosanct privilege.

But you know, the lawyers are kind of in a catch-22 on the one hand, either they knew about it and signed the certification and it was false, or they didn't know about it and the question is why then did you put the certification in where you just relied on the client.

And so that's -- that's what we're going to be finding --


WALKER: That's right. and I should have clarified. We were talking about Mar-a-Lago and the attorney-client privilege --

BLACKWELL: That's right. With the --


BLACKWELL: Yes -- you know, with the documents case.

MOORE: And that's exactly right.


BLACKWELL: So let me ask you about the rejection this week of the executive privilege claim as it relates to the former Trump White House officials -- Mark Meadows, Scavino, Cuccinelli, the rest. Does that inform or should it inform our expectation of the outcome of the Pence executive privilege claim to try to block his subpoena to speak with special grand -- grand jury and the special counsel?

MOORE: You know, I think so -- and remember, we're talking about testimony to a grand jury. And a grand jury is a secretive process by design.

And so the judge has some safety features to make sure that all this information is not out in the public record anyway.

And I think you can tell that the judge is no longer, and the courts are no longer having this idea that the executive privilege is just a shield that they could hide behind and throw up essentially to obstruct an inquiry into the action.

And so Pence can be asked about things, and I think you'll see this. What were you doing at the time? What was Trump doing at the time? What kind of -- you know, what discussions were had? Did you get emails? Did you get any discussions?

These things I think will be outside of sort of the deliberative process protections that the executive privileges is designed to shield.


BLACKWELL: -- and where they're going to define scope --

MOORE: That is right. BLACKWELL: -- for Pence.


MOORE: Sort of -- sort of a limited set of questions. There will be things I think that the judge may not let them dig into, you know, there might be specific discussions that Pence claims he had with Trump that, you know, in fact, maybe shielded under the executive privilege.

And I think his claim that he is actually part of the legislative body, maybe discussions he had with members of the Senate should be shielded, but you cannot hide behind the executive privilege claim to conceal a crime. I mean, you just can't do that.

And so the Supreme Court's already addressed this in Nixon, you know, back during the Watergate time. The court did not allow the executive privilege to come in and be something that basically blocked prosecutors from looking at evidence they needed to as they looked into the investigation.

BLACKWELL: All right. Michael, thank you.

MOORE: Yes. Great to be with you.

WALKER: Good to see you. Thanks.

BLACKWELL: And stay with CNN. We'll have more on the day's biggest political stories coming up on "STATE OF THE UNION".

And be sure to tune in. I know you all are saying it's 8:00, what happened to Abby?

WALKER: Where's Abby?

BLACKWELL: Well, Abby now is at a new time today at 11:00 Eastern right here on CNN.

WALKER: Coming up, a tactical escalation. Russian President Vladimir Putin says Russia plans to station nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus. What that means next?



WALKER: The U.S. and Ukraine are reacting to Vladimir Putin's plan to station technical -- tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. In an interview on state television, Putin said Moscow will maintain control of those weapons and the plan would not violate any non proliferation agreements.

BLACKWELL: So what's the goal here. Is this a move to shift attention from Russia's setback in Ukraine?

CNN senior international correspondent Matthew Chance joins us now live from Moscow.

What does this mean for Putin? What does it mean for Belarus?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's a good question. I mean look, I definitely think that one of the reasons Putin keeps on talking about his nuclear arsenal is that first of all, he wants to sort of scare people around the world because, you know, any talk of the massive destructive power that Russia has at its fingertips is pretty frightening.

But he also wants to send a message domestically as well to his own Russian audience because things aren't going brilliantly on the battlefield. The front lines are pretty stagnant despite the fact that Russia is losing a lot of people in what it calls its special military operation.

And so it wants to show I think that Russia has the initiative. It has options and that probably goes down very well with the Russian public.

What Putin has actually said he's going to do, Victor, is put tactical nuclear missiles, which are not big intercontinental ballistic things that -- they're much smaller battlefield munitions into Belarus. They're building a silo there to house them, which he said should be ready until July.


CHANCE: But you know, it doesn't really change the calculus in terms of whether Putin is going to use them or not. In fact, there's been a very calm reaction from the United States, saying they're not seeing any sign that Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon and after these remarks they're not changing their nuclear stance as it were.

And so you know, it's very much being seen as a bit of nuclear messaging, perhaps for domestic consumption inside Russia.

WALKER: Well, clearly Ukraine is watching this as well. Any reaction from Kyiv?

CHANCE: Yes. I mean, that Ukrainians say that -- they haven't said they're not particularly worried about it. Obviously, they are. Any country neighboring Belarus when there's going to be nuclear weapons are going to be concerned, obviously.

But what the Ukrainians are saying is this is probably a move that is going to destabilize Belarus inside the country because there's going to be a lot of people inside Belarus that are not in favor of Russian nuclear weapons being stationed on their territory.

Again though, you know for the Russians, this is a way of tightening their grip over Belarus because Putin made it clear he's not transferring these nuclear missiles to Belarus. They're going to be accompanied by Russian forces.

They're still going to be in control and command of these missiles, which means more and more Russian military officials and troops on the ground in neighboring Belarus, which again really gives Russia more of a military presence in that country, and allows it to even further tighten its grip over its ally.

WALKER: Matthew Chance, appreciate your reporting, as always. Thank you.

A series of storms still taking their toll on residents across California, and it's not yet over but there has been one benefit. The details next.



BLACKWELL: Quick programming note for you, Adam Sandler and his friends are coming to CNN. "THE KENNEDY CENTER PRESENTS THE MARK TWAIN PRIZE FOR AMERICAN HUMOR" celebrating Adam Sandler tonight at 8:00 on CNN.

WALKER: So this morning, California is bracing for another powerful storm that's expected to bring more heavy rains and mountain snow.

BLACKWELL: CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar has been tracking all of this. She's been very busy today.


BLACKWELL: Let's talk about the storms now out west and the impact. This record amount of snow pack on the Sierras.

CHINCHAR: Yes it's been a very busy winter. It's like the winter that just doesn't end.

So let's take a look at what we've got. Look at this video behind me. You've got the snow pack that's as high as one and even two story buildings here.

It's not only on the trees, it's on the roadways. And this video specifically is from about a month ago, when you think of all of the low pressure systems and even the atmospheric rivers, we had roughly a dozen atmospheric river events just this winter season alone.

So again, it's a lot of snow and intense amount of snow. But the Sierras are not all equal, and that's the thing you have to keep in mind. It's broken down into three separate regions.

So let's talk about those three areas, ok. It's broken up into the northern, the central and the southern the southern. The southern, interestingly enough, is the area with the highest amount of snow. You're talking 283 percent of their normal snow water equivalent.

Basically, what that is it takes into account not only the snowpack on the ground, but if you were to melt it down -- what's that water equivalent?

But now let's take it into perspective and compare this year to other years. When we talk about this year specifically, it's been very impressive. 2023 for the entire state of California, you're talking 227 percent of that snow water equivalent.

Look at the last couple of years, though, we haven't even gotten to normal, let alone what this year's number has been. And one thing to know and especially when we talk about all this snow is how much that's really improved the drought across the state of California.

So here's a look at December 6th just not that long ago. Look at all that red color of the extreme and the exceptional drought there. Now fast forward to just a few days ago, no part of California has any extreme or exceptional drought anymore.

A lot of that, yes, in thanks to the snowpack, but also the rain that has fallen too especially the coastal region. So it's helped the reservoirs. It's helped build up that snow pack.

And now we're about to add even more on top of it. We have another system that's set to arrive starting late Monday, and then it will continue to push in on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.

Now it's not just impacting California. We do need to emphasize this will also hit Oregon and Washington with a pretty intense amount of rain and snow.

For the coastal regions, specifically for northern California, you're talking about two to four inches of additional rainfall on top of what they've already seen. And then when we talk about snow, especially for the Sierras, now we're going to be measuring that, Amara and Victor, in feet at least 1 to 3 feet of additional snow pack on top of all that snow you already saw on the ground.

WALKER: Never mind all that snow and right. I mean that graphic was so cool. I mean seeing California go onto the ground there and you're going to step on California. That looks pretty cool.

BLACKWELL: Shout out to Haley Brink (ph), your producer who got that done.


BLACKWELL: But yes, the snow and rain coming. They don't need it all at once but it is easing the drought.


BLACKWELL: Allison, thank you.

Actress and activist Eva Longoria is proud of her Mexican roots deeply connected to the country she calls her second home.

WALKER: Now in the new "CNN ORIGINAL SERIES SEARCHING FOR MEXICO", Longoria is taking us on a journey across the country to see how its people, culture, landscape and history have shaped its diverse cuisine.




This is El Morro. It's an institution in Mexico City. It's -- you have to come here when you're in Mexico City.

Churros and chocolate are a dream come true for my four-year-old son, Santi.

This one but softly. Stop. Stop. Stop. Slow.

This is the (INAUDIBLE) in the family.

When it comes to food. We all have our guilty pleasures. For my son, it's chocolate and churros.


WALKER: "EVA LONGORIA: SEARCHING FOR MEXICO" airs tonight at 10:00 right here on CNN.

BLACKWELL: Spoiler alert. She finds it.

Thanks so much for joining us this morning.

WALKER: "STATE OF THE UNION" is next. Have a great Sunday.