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Tornadoes Blasted Through Several Central, Southern States; Search Zone for MH370 Expands Massively; Advertisers Cutting Ties with Clippers; More Sanctions Against Prominent Russians

Aired April 28, 2014 - 13:30   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's get back to our top story. Powerful tornadoes blasted through several central and southern states, leaving towns completely flattened. Search and rescue teams are hoping to find people alive in the rubble in Arkansas just north of Little Rock. At least 16 people were killed. Most of those in Arkansas. Which was hardest hit Sunday night. There's also a jumbled mass of uprooted trees and what's left of homes along the twister's path. The National Guard troops have been deployed. People knew that the storms were heading their way, but were still taken by surprise as how strong they wound up being. Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Arkansas, all of them reported tornado touchdowns.

Residents of Vilonia, Arkansas, feeling a sense of deja vu. For the second time in three years, a tornado has flattened sections of their town.

George Howell has made his way there.

George, search and rescue efforts are still under way there. What is the latest, what are you seeing?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, let me set the scene. So a gentleman just a minute ago told me exactly what you said, three years ago, and he said three days ago, they went through this. Here they are dealing with it again. We're getting closer access. Obviously, trying to respect people. They lost property, they lost homes and things that they had for many, many years. But we're starting to get a little closer into these communities. You look at what this tornado did. It went right through. Tore through homes. Snapped trees in half as if they were twigs. If we could pan over. You can see people are now going through these homes. They're trying to find out what's left over. You see the blue tarp there on top of the home. If you look at it, it looks like the tornado basically came over the road and basically went through this community. So we're getting a little closer access now. Power lines down. People are without power.

Here in Faulkner County, it was especially hard hit. We know at least 10 people died here. This all happened, Wolf, overnight. So the sirens were going off. A lot of people, most people, went to those storm shelters. When they came back out, this is what they were left with. 10 dead in Faulkner County. In Arkansas, at least 14 people dead. And overall, the storm, within three states, including Arkansas, one in Iowa, one in Oklahoma. A total of 16 people were killed by this very powerful storm system.

BLITZER: George Howell with a devastating report there.

We're going to stay on top of this story and have more coming up.

To our viewers who want to help, there's something you can do. If you want to help the victims, go to You can impact your world. Still ahead, some big changes in the hunt for flight 370. Why they are now facing a massive new search zone.


BLITZER: So after 52 days, searchers looking for flight 370 say it's time to regroup. The search area will be expanded once again. It will be massive, 350 times the search that was just completed. It covered an area roughly the size the state of Indiana. The aerial part of the investigation for all practical purposes is now being called off. Private contractors are being brought in to help. Officials say new technology also will be deployed but it could still take months to complete.

Australia's prime minister, Tony Abbott, was emphatic they were not giving up on finding the plane.


TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIA PRIME MINISTER: I want the families to know, I want the world to know, that Australia will not shirk its responsibilities in this area. We will do everything we humanly can, everything we reasonably can, to solve this mystery. We will not let people down.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our panel of experts. Peter Goelz is a CNN aviation analyst, former NTSB managing director; our law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes is here, former assistant director of the FBI.

I guess, Peter, it looks to me like they're almost starting from scratch.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: They certainly have expanded it far beyond what I had imagined. I thought they would start the search around the four pings and check each one of the remaining three pings as carefully as they checked the first one. But apparently they are. They're going back to scratch. And a size the state of Indiana, awfully big.

BLITZER: What does that say to you, that it's not just another ten square miles or whatever that they're going to search but they're going to search an area the size of the state of Indiana, which is a pretty big state?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, it still says they have confidence in the Inmarsat data. If they were starting from scratch, they'd be back in the South China Sea --


BLITZER: The problem though is they don't have confidence in the pings they may have heard.

FUENTES: Well, less confidence because it wasn't exactly the frequency they were looking for. Certainly, they're still looking in that part of the Indian Ocean. They're not looking in the Himalayas or near Vietnam or China. They still appear to have a great deal of confidence in the Inmarsat data that put that plane on that arc west of Australia.

BLITZER: When I heard they were going to look at the bottom of the Indian Ocean in an area the size of Indiana, my immediate reaction was they no longer have confidence in the pings, the pings that were detected, four sets of pings. Because each one of those pings that a distribution area may be two miles or three miles. It says to me maybe they're re-assessing what they heard.

GOELZ: I agree with you, Wolf. I think this means that for whatever reason, the pings are not the top priority, but they're going to go back in. I assume they're going to be bringing in an array of equipment that will expand the bottom search dramatically.

BLITZER: When they say they're going to bring in private contractors to undertake this underwater search, I guess navy personnel, military personnel, they're not going to be used. What does that say to you?

FUENTES: I think they are going to be used but I think private companies own the equipment and are under contract to the navy and to the Australia authorities. I don't think that's anything we wouldn't have expected to see private companies supplying equipment, who are under contract to the U.S. military and other authorities.

BLITZER: Are they just right now hoping they have a Hail Mary and they're going to find something, is that what they're about to do?

GOELZ: No, I think they still -- as Tom mentioned, they trust the Inmarsat data. They just got the look over the entire arc and they're starting.

BLITZER: Is there anything else, Peter, they need down here if they're going in this whole area? The underwater search, that goes very, very slowly. Think about somebody walking along all of the state of Indiana, how long that could take.

GOELZ: When they finally found Air France 447, they had three Rima 6,000s plus a towed array, so they need to bring in some more equipment quickly.

BLITZER: The Air France search, which went on for two years, after five days, they did find wreckage. So they at least now where approximately the plane had gone into the Atlanta ocean. This was a two-year span, but the actual search time was only, what, 14 or 15 weeks during the course of those two years. FUENTES: Right. And here you have everybody in a big hurry to give up. Almost the third day the Bluefin was in the water, people were complaining, it didn't find it, let's quick. So I think the lack of patience is astounding when experts from the very beginning, like Peter, said this could take months, this could take years. Everybody wanted an answer the first week of the search.

BLITZER: A lot of people are saying maybe they'll never find it too. That's obviously a possibility out there. But it's going to take a long, long time.

Guys, thanks very much for joining us.

Up next, more fallout from the racist comments attributed to an owner of an NBA team, the Los Angeles Clippers. We're going to hear what President Obama has to say about it.


BLITZER: NBA players certainly understandably angry about racist comments attributed to the owner of the Clippers Donald Sterling. Now the team's business partners they're jumping ship. State Farm, Car Max, they've all announced they're cutting ties with the Clipper.

Let's bring in our guest, Marc Lamont Hill, associate professor at Columbia University in New York.

I guess this is what's supposed to happen. You hit him first in the bank account, right?


BLITZER: Yes, this is apparently what happens, first reaction is sponsors, advertisers, they go after the team directly and they sever ties because they're so angry at these alleged comments.

LAMONT HILL: Well, they're angry and they're also very practical. They know if they stand next to the Clippers, next to Donald Sterling, they look complicit as well. You'll begin to see sponsors run. Some of the most apolitical athletes in American history, Michael Jordan, you know, runs from this. Barack Obama, who I'm sure doesn't want to be speaking about this on Asian tour, talks about it. So it's not surprising the sponsors run. The next thing is the league will say, hey, this guy is not just bad P.R, he's bad for business. If he's bad for business, this may be a sign of the beginning of the end for Donald Sterling.

BLITZER: I want to play what the president had to say. You point out he was in Asia when he said these remarks. He was asked and this is what he said.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don't really have to do anything, you just let them talk. That's what happened here.


Obviously, the NBA's a league that is beloved by fans all across the country. It's got an awful lot of African-American players. It's steeped in African-American culture. I suspect that the NBA is going to be deeply concerned in resolving this.


BLITZER: What should the NBA really do about this incident, do you believe, Marc?

LAMONT HILL: I think they have to give an indefinite suspension to Sterling, go through the due process and push him out of the league. This is bad for business. I'm not of the mind-set that people should be fired for what they believe privately. But there's a connection between his private beliefs and his public practices. We've seen that through housing discrimination, through the Elgin Baylor lawsuit, and we've seen it again today. The league can't have someone like this staying around. We have to take the profit out of racism.

BLITZER: Which raises the question -- and we hadn't earlier -- a very awkward moment for the NAACP, which we all know does really important work. They were about to give him a Lifetime Achievement Award, the la chapter of the NAACP. They gave him a major award a few years ago. You point out some of these other incidents. How do you explain them?

LAMONT HILL: There is no reasonable explanation. This was not some obscure case. The Department of Justice went after Sterling for housing discrimination in the very city where he's getting an NAACP award. If we believe that the NAACP is operating with good intentions, that means they were completely unaware and did no research. Or we can take a different analysis that says sometimes big money talks and poor people walk. He is going to great lengths to show how much money he donates to people of color. He goes to extravagant ways to do superficial gestures as the same time that he's causing harm to people of color. I think the NAACP of Los Angeles bought into his campaign, his public relations campaign as opposed to scratching underneath the surface and seeing who he really is.

BLITZER: Even when someone with the caliber of Elgin Baylor, when he makes these allegations are made, even though he lost that eventual lawsuit, but when Baylor makes these charges of discrimination, that should be a warning sign to the NAACP.

LAMONT HILL: It absolutely should have been a warning sign. There hasn't been a case this blatant. It's the same thing now. I think somebody fell asleep at the wheel and I think they are deeply embarrassed by the choices they made to offer him the award in the first place.

BLITZER: We heard Leon Jenkins, the president of the L.A. chapter the NAACP say earlier this morning that they were going to return the money that he had given the chapter and said that it would not a significant amount of money although he would not say how much Sterling had given the NAACP L.A. chapter over the years.

Marc Lamont Hill, professor at Columbia University, we will stay on top of this story. Thanks very much.

LAMONT HILL: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, the U.S. levels sanctions against prominent Russians. Russia is firing back calling them meaningless. We will get more of the larger picture of President Obama's power in the region. Stay with us.


BLITZER: President Obama propositioned new sanctions on Russia over continued meddling he claims they are under taking in the Ukraine. Today he delivered on that promise. The new round of sanctions targeted more individuals and more businesses. Among those targeted with travel bans are two members of President Vladimir Putin's inner circle, one is the deputy prime minister and the other is president and chairman of the country's largest petroleum company, but still no sanctions directly on Putin himself.

Joining us now is our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Gloria, how significant are these latest sanctions?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, I think you just have to say this is another tightening of the noose. It's not as tight as it could be or will potentially be in the future. I think you see the struggle about how far they can move ahead of the European allies. I think it's clear that you have seen the president making a decision that it's better to show unity than for the United States to move unilaterally because in the end it has been argued to him that that could hurt American businesses. He's kind of caught in a tough place. The question moving forward is how strongly he argues for tougher sanctions.

BLITZER: For the sanctions to really be successful, you need the Europeans on board.

BORGER: You do.

BLITZER: Because so much more of their economy is linked with the Russian economy much more so than the U.S. economy.

BORGER: Right. Exactly. So what he is doing behind the scenes is trying to get the Europeans on board as much as he can. There may come a point where the president will just have to say that we're going to do something with or without you. And that may make him look stronger but in the end, if that hurts American business, that could be a bit of a problem. I think he is hearing both sides of the argument and I think that, at some point, if this situation doesn't get better, even the Europeans may be prompted to move in ways that they have not done yet. You're dealing with a bully here. When you go into a schoolyard and you're confronting a bully who has got a bat, you have got have something that you can use to fight back with. BLITZER: The president is facing criticism for his foreign policy strategy, his implementation of it. He answered some of his critics in the Philippines. Let me play a little clip.


OBAMA: In the Asia-Pacific region, just to take one example, we are much better positioned to work with the peoples here on a whole range of issues. That may not always be sexy, that may not always attract a lot of attention. And it doesn't make for a good argument on the Sunday morning shows, but it avoids errors. You hit singles. You hit doubles. Every once in a while we may be able to hit a home run but we steadily advance the interest of the American people and our partnership with folks around the world.


BORGER: Wolf, this is a very clear expression of his world view. His world view is that military deployments we have gotten into have been taken recklessly with bad results. He would argue, as you heard him there, that by doing things incrementally, we have established stronger alliances. There are a lot of people in this country, particularly on the Republican side of the aisle, who argued that he has weakened alliances and not strengthened alliances because he has not led out front. This is an argument that we will have to see played out in the results.

BLITZER: He has got so many issues right now, foreign policy issues. Not just what's happening in Ukraine.

BORGER: Syria.

BLITZER: Syria, Iran. You take a looks at a bunch of areas right now -- it looks like the Israeli/Palestinian peace process is on the verge of collapse. He's coming back to the United States with a lot of headaches.

BORGER: He has got a lot of headaches foreign policy wise. He also has a lot of headaches domestically. Wolf, what's going to happen on immigration reform is a big example of something he wants to get done before his presidency ends. He has got to work both ends. I would argue, on the foreign policy front, second-term presidents like to have an impact, and so far not so much.

BLITZER: He has got a big agenda ahead of him.


BLITZER: Gloria, thanks very much.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I will be back 5:00 p.m. eastern with another special two-hour edition of "The Situation Room."

In the meantime, NEWSROOM today, with Pamela Brown starts right now.