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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Hundred-Plus Feared Dead After Tornadoes Tear Across U.S. Midwest and South; Biden Approves Kentucky Emergency Declaration After Deadly Tornadoes; Stressed Health Workers Worry About Additional Burden from Omicron. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 13, 2021 - 05:00   ET



LAURA JARRETT, ANCHOR, EARLY START: Good morning everyone, it is Monday, December 13th, it's 5:00 a.m. here in New York. Thank you so much for getting an early start with me, I'm Laura Jarrett, Christine is off today, welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. We begin this morning with this terrible weather disaster in the heartland. More than 100 people feared dead after a series of tornadoes ripped through the Midwest and south late Friday and early Saturday morning.

Now, most of the damage was concentrated in these six states. In Kentucky alone, Governor Andy Beshear says at least 80 people were killed, homes and businesses now torn to pieces. Governor Beshear is opening state parks to help house families left homeless and in shock.


CAROLYN BORDERS, TORNADO VICTIM: Gone. We had glass broken. All the furniture is torn up. Broken. It's just sad.


JARRETT: Over the weekend, President Biden signed a federal emergency disaster declaration for Kentucky and FEMA has sent a housing expert to help work out how to help those in need. In Kentucky, just over 26,000 homes and businesses are still without power today. In the southern Illinois city of Edwardsville, six people died in the collapse of this huge Amazon Distribution Center. And that's where we find CNN's Polo Sandoval live for us this morning. Polo, good morning. Are authorities still searching for --


JARRETT: Survivors at this hour? Bring our viewers up to speed. Good morning.

SANDOVAL: And good morning to you, Laura. Yes, we can start in Dawson Springs for example, some 200 miles southwest of where we are this morning right now. The Mayor there, Chris Smiley telling our colleagues that it is just an utter disaster though, like a bomb went off. The mayor there say that about 75 percent of his small town wiped out, replaced with chaos there. And residents dealing with a new reality this morning of having to seek out those basic needs like food and water.

You mentioned a little while ago, the state of Kentucky opening up parks to help house some of these displaced families right now whose lives are just turned upside down in a single instant with these dozens of tornadoes touched down on Friday night. One of at least -- out of at least a 100 feared dead this morning. About 13 of those fatalities have already been confirmed there in Dawson Springs.

You mentioned FEMA, the National Guard also on site here helping with that still, according to authorities, some rescue efforts -- and then about 70 miles west of there in Mayfield, Kentucky, we know of at least eight dead, at least eight missing at a candle factory there that was just leveled by tornado according to investigators there and officials.

About a 100 workers were inside of that facility. Many of them obviously being rescued. But the mayor in that community just as recent as last night telling your colleague Pamela Brown that they are still moving forward with potential rescues.

So, sadly, they have not pulled anybody out of the debris in several days. Meanwhile, here in Edwardsville, Illinois, the damage is contained solely to that Amazon shipping facility, where we now know at least six people were confirmed dead.

Six people are confirmed dead, in fact. In fact, authorities releasing the identities of them, their ages ranging from 24 to 62 years old. Yesterday, I had an opportunity to actually sit down with the family of one of those people who sadly did not survive after that estimated EF-3 tornado tore through the facility.

In fact, if you look at the damage from overhead, you can actually see how the tornado cut through this shipping facility, leading to that partial collapse. I want you to hear directly from Carla Cope as she describes what it was like on Friday night when she reached out to her son Clayton who served his country honorably in the Navy for six years before he returned here to southwest Illinois and then took up a job serving as a -- with a contractor that works directly with Amazon. This is our conversation with Mrs. Cope last night.


CARLA COPE, LOST SON IN AMAZON WAREHOUSE COLLAPSE: My husband and my son both worked the exact same shift, just opposite ends of the week. They worked together every Wednesday night. So to be quite honest, if I hadn't lost one, I probably would have lost the other because if Clay wasn't there, my husband would have been. We were on the phone with him just not minutes before it happened.

We called because we saw the storm was heading that way. And we called just to make sure that he was heading to shelter.

[05:05:00] And so after the storm passed, I tried to get a hold of him several

times. I texted. I called. And from him being in the military, he knows better than to ignore his mother. So he wasn't answering me. And that's not allowed. In my heart, I know that he went to try to warn other people to get where they needed to be. And between his military training and just who he was, he would have done that. No matter whether, you know, he was told to or not. So that's the only thing I can hold on to, is that I feel like he must have been trying to help someone else.

SANDOVAL: What is it that you want the world to know about your son?

COPE: I just want them to know that he was a wonderful, caring person. And that his presence will be a huge void in so many lives.


SANDOVAL: Some others tear -- through those tears, she does smile remembering obviously her son. What we do know that again there were at least five other people who sadly did not survive here. Look, the damage here in southwestern Illinois, it is just contained to this facility, that the emotional devastation right now, Laura, as you just heard from that grieving mother, it is just as raw and just as heartbreaking as what some folks in Kentucky are experiencing.

And really as we continue to hear more stories about those losses, it will give us an even bigger idea, just a sense of the void that's left behind with so many families who again, their lives just turned upside down in a single instant on Friday night and Saturday morning.

JARRETT: So tragic. Polo, great interview. Great reporting as always. Thank you. Well, this morning, as Polo mentioned, eight people are dead and eight others remain missing at that Mayfield, Kentucky, candle factory that was completely leveled by a tornado. A spokesperson for the company says they know for sure that 90 employees were able to escape and that it's still a rescue effort at this time, not a recovery mission. One man whose sister was in that factory says he's relying on prayer. CNN's Nick Valencia has more on the harrowing damage elsewhere in Kentucky.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Laura, family members in this subdivision here in hard-hit Bowling Green are just now starting to come back to salvage what little remains of their homes and what's left of their homes any way. I spoke earlier to a Bosnian man who said that he was in his car when the tornado ripped through this subdivision. His family was inside their home when the roof collapsed on top of them. He said if it wasn't for a refrigerator wedged between the roof and his family, they would all be gone.


VALENCIA: You're in a car and they go upstairs and the roof collapses in on them, and that refrigerator that we're looking at the corner --


VALENCIA: And when you got to them, what kind of shape were they in? What was their condition?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were screaming and crying, and my little girl's hand was cut here and bloody. I don't know what to do. Don't have a roof over my head and my kids.


VALENCIA: We've spoken a lot about what happened in Mayfield, Kentucky, just west of here. But here in Bowling Green, they are suffering just as much. This subdivision we understand, there were several people who lost their lives here in this community, including what neighbors tell me some small children. That of course has yet to be officially confirmed by police. But from the stories that we've heard, the trauma of what these community members saw will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Laura?

JARRETT: Nick, thank you for that. In just a few hours, President Biden will be briefed on the federal response to this weekend's deadly tornadoes. The president says he is monitoring the situation very closely. CNN's Jasmine Wright live for us in Washington this morning. Jasmine, good morning. What more do we expect to hear from the president on this terrible disaster this weekend?

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Laura, a majority of the president's day today will be spent on the aftermath of these tornadoes. Last night, he approved a major disaster declaration for the state of Kentucky, really freeing up federal resources to supplant areas there in need, and of course, as you said, he will be briefed today in person in the Oval Office by his top officials at DHS, FEMA and Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas of DHS. and Deanne Criswell of FEMA were on the ground in Kentucky yesterday.

No doubt they'll be able to give President Biden a firsthand point of view of the damage there. But still, Laura, there is no word on when we can expect the president to make a visit to the disaster areas. On Saturday in those rare weekend remarks to talk about the issue, President Biden said that he would, of course, visit but only when his visit would no longer be a burden on the state's resources.


But one thing that he did do in those remarks, Laura, is that he delivered really heartfelt emotional remarks about it, really reflecting on the tragedies that he has faced so far in office as president, as we expect him to really adopt once again this consoler- in-chief role as he responds to this disaster. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My heart aches for those people right now, including the rescuers, including the burden on them and what they worry about. That's what they talked to me about in Florida. That's what they talked to me about afterwards. And so, I just think that we just have to keep at it. We have to keep focused, and this is going to be the -- you know, the focus of my attention until we get this finished. (END VIDEO CLIP)

WRIGHT: So President Biden there was talking about his experience in Surfside, Florida, but we will wait to hear from more from him today to see when he will be making that trip. Now, of course, one thing that this conversation has turned to, Laura, is the impact of climate change on these weather events -- these severe weather events. President Biden was asked Saturday if he felt like climate change was linked to the kind of devastating effects of these tornadoes. He said he did not have a definitive answer, but he's asking his EPA to take a look into it, to research more.

But one thing that both he and his administration had been really adamant about this last nearly year in office is trying to tackle the issue of climate change. And one way that they see doing that is his larger spending bill that BBB, Build Back Better, that is currently stalled in the Senate. Now officials and sources tell CNN that President Biden could meet with key Senate holdouts, somebody like Joe Manchin as early as today on the way forward for that package, that of course includes lots of different climate elements in it. Laura?

JARRETT: We'll see where that goes before the holidays. Jasmine, we know you're staying on top of it. Thank you. Still ahead for you, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made some career decisions. New CNN reporting just ahead. And the picture of the British Prime Minister that is causing a scandal. That's next.



JARRETT: Welcome back. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will be staying on until at least next year's midterm elections and perhaps even beyond that, extending her nearly 20-year run in leadership. The 82-year-old speaker is already planning on running for re-election in her own San Francisco district next year. And CNN has new reporting this morning on some of the mixed feelings, shall we say, of her house colleagues. Some fear the unknown, others say a newer and younger generation of leadership is needed.

Meantime in the U.K., embattled British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is struggling to contain all the fallout over hosting those Christmas parties at 10 Downing Street last year while the country was under lockdown during COVID. Johnson has denied he was present at the parties, but CNN has learned that the parties were held on at least two days last year. CNN's Salma Abdelaziz joins us live from London. All right, Salma, he seems to be unable to contain some of this fallout. We learn more information by the day. What are you learning?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: Absolutely, Laura. Over the weekend yet another detail, yet a little bit more information in that growing body of evidence. This time coming from the mayor at tabloid here, it's a still image. I'm just going to show you. It shows the prime minister playing this quiz during Christmas and it says, taking us for fools again. And I think the message is clear there. It's no longer just about how many parties, plural, were held at the prime minister's office and residents who weren't in attendance and when they took place.

It's now becoming about how the prime minister has handled this because his strategy has been denial. And it's difficult to imagine, Laura, what on earth the prime minister can say at this point to make this controversy go away. What on earth he can do to make it all right that Downing Street officials, senior officials, his own staff were partying, drinking cheese and wine while hundreds of people were dying of COVID-19 last year.

Becomes even more concerning when you realize the prime minister is fighting yet another variant right now, the Omicron variant. Health officials here saying the number of Omicron cases are doubling every two to three days. It's set to become the dominant strain by the end of the month. The prime minister's message to everyone is get boosted, but you're already going to see the first test of his authority tomorrow. The prime minister is set to go into parliament to get a few more COVID measures approved to deal with the Omicron variant.

And we already know that members of his own party, conservative back- benchers are going to rebel against these measures. They're going to stand up in parliament and vote against their prime minister. So already, there are doubts growing within his own party as to whether or not he can continue to steer the ship. Now, there's no election in place here for a few more years, Laura, but there's always that possibility of a no confidence vote.

And yes, that would take time, it would take a mutiny within his own party, but the conservative party here is quite notorious for being ready to flip the script, change leadership when and if necessary, Laura.

JARRETT: It seems hard to deny you were there when there are pictures of you being there, but we'll see what he does with this. Salma, thank you for your reporting. All right, just ahead for you, more on the search for survivors as tornadoes tear through six states leaving a trail of devastation behind over the weekend. And also, the global healthcare crunch. More patients, fewer hospital staff and a new variant spreading quickly.



JARRETT: This morning, the fast-spreading Omicron variant is adding fresh fears about the dwindling ranks of healthcare workers around the world. Doctors and nurses are already struggling in ICUs crowded with patients battling the other variant, the Delta variant, the dominant one. And officials are concerned about what comes next. CNN's Michael Holmes takes a closer look for us.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The Champs-Elysees sparkles at night, full of holiday lights and shoppers, some wearing masks, some not. A festive scene, but there is a different hustle and bustle going on in hospitals in France and elsewhere in Europe, too.


One that is far more urgent and devoid of cheer. Hospitals once again in some regions of France are almost filled to capacity due to a rise in new COVID-19 cases. Even though the country has more than 70 percent of its population fully vaccinated, some medical centers are struggling to admit new patients and have activated emergency plans, which include expanding the number of ICU beds and postponing non- essential treatments. Another wave of COVID-19 that is wearing down an already weary staff.

JULIEN CARVELLI, ICU DOCTOR (through translator): You know, work has been very hard for two years, especially in COVID units. We've had people who were competent to work in ICUs who left and they no longer want to be hired in a COVID unit.

HOLMES: Hospital wards already strained with patients infected by the Delta variant of the coronavirus, brace for what could come next. The U.K. says people sick from the fast-spreading Omicron variant are now being admitted to hospitals. The CEO of the International Council of Nurses who heads a group representing 27 million nurses, says this could be the breaking point for many healthcare workers. He says turnover could be alarming. His organization estimates the rates of nurses intending to leave the job within a year has risen to 20 percent to 30 percent.

HOWARD CATTON, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, INTERNATIONAL COUNCIL OF NURSES: The feeling that they've run already two or three or even four marathons with each wave of the pandemic, the prospects of having to go again means that many of them are not sure whether they can.

HOLMES: The nurses' group say there was already a global shortage of 6 million nurses before the pandemic, and many were set to retire in the next few years. But the pandemic has further drained the ranks. The World Health Organization says up to 180,000 healthcare workers may have died from COVID-19 from the beginning of the pandemic through May of this year. And a small percentage are leaving because of vaccine mandates.

Germany recently joined a number of other European countries like France and Italy to require vaccinations or proof of recovery from COVID-19 for all healthcare workers beginning in March. A new study in the U.K. says without additional measures there could be more hospitalizations in England this Winter than last because of the Omicron variant. Experts warning large numbers of even less severe cases would have an impact on hospitals.

CATTON: My sense is that nurses around the world -- I think like all of us, were perhaps starting to feel as though we were seeing light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. But now, there's a palpable anxiety that we could be going back close to square one.

HOLMES: A setback that could derail what many healthcare workers really want this holiday season, desperately needed break. Michael Holmes, CNN. (END VIDEOTAPE)

JARRETT: Michael, thank you for that piece. Still ahead for you, Kentucky's governor calling it devastation like none of us have ever seen before. Hear more from him and the latest on the deadly tornadoes in six states just ahead. And a historic moment in the Middle East, Israel's Prime Minister going where none of his predecessors ever went before.