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JOHN KING, USA

Agony and Destruction in Joplin, Missouri

Aired May 23, 2011 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks Wolf and good evening everyone. Tonight agony and destruction in Joplin, Missouri, at least 116 people are dead in what is now tied as the single deadliest tornado on record. The images are numbing. Neighborhoods turned to rubble. Cars tossed into piles like toys. Structures large and small leveled by a giant tornado that cut a path of destruction a mile wide and four miles long.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BILLY LONG (R), MISSOURI: The best way I can describe it is a movie about a nuclear disaster and it looks like a nuclear bomb has hit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And the search and rescue teams race against the odds tonight, hoping, hoping to find survivors in the rubble. And there's this, a forecast warning of more tornadoes and severe weather across the Midwest tomorrow and Joplin is again in the danger zone. Jacqui Jeras is live in Joplin and gets us started with the very latest on this stunning, stunning toll, Jacqui, and as a night falls I guess one question is how is the hope, is there much hope that there are still survivors in that rubble?

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well John (INAUDIBLE) here that people are in search and rescue mode and the best news that we have heard today is that seven people have been found alive, so seven survivors in Joplin, Missouri and that search and rescue is the big focus, and they say it's going to be a number of days that they're going to continue to go out there, and one of the biggest problems that we have been dealing with has been the weather, more weather has been coming in here, nonstop throughout the day, we have had these waves of showers and thunderstorms, producing lightning, producing hail and torrential downpours so it's making it very difficult for workers to get where they need to be to try and help some of these people.

And of course the concern is that some of them are going to get wet as well as the temperatures drop throughout the night tonight. More severe weather expected here tomorrow as well, in fact a moderate risk has been issued by the Storm Prediction Center for the severe weather, so the threat of tornadoes will be out there for southwestern parts of Missouri. The damage is just incredible. In all of my years of reporting those tornadoes, I have never seen this much devastation over such a wide area through town.

Things are just strewn about every way, you can see the scene behind me, workers are coming in now with tow trucks trying to get rid of some of these cars that have been thrown feet away that have just been crushed and the smell of gas remains very strong also from some of these cars, so they're trying to get equipment in here. Emergency personnel are here, 450 strong, about 250 of those are National Guard members and they say another 450 on top of that are on standby as needed. This is a real community effort, local, state and federal government all here on the scene and they say they're going to be here throughout the duration to help the people in Joplin, Missouri -- John.

KING: Jacqui Jeras on the scene for us live. One of our correspondent on the scene, we'll take in touch with Jacqui and the others throughout the evening tonight as we try to track and bring into context this stunning devastation. Joplin, if you're not familiar with it, city of about 49,000 people. It's in Southwest Missouri just inside the borders of Kansas and Oklahoma. It's in the Bible belt. The tornado in fact demolished a Catholic church and its elementary school. We'll show you that a bit later. It's also near a major interstate highway, I-44. When the storm hit Isaac Duncan (ph) (INAUDIBLE) group of people who took over quickly at a gas station. He captured the sounds but not the sight the moment the tornado hit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're good.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're good.

(CROSSTALK)

(CRYING)

(SCREAMING)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)

(SOUNDS)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Another camera, this one on a storm chaser's car dashboard caught the moment the tornado dipped down out of the clouds, you can hear right there the storm chaser trying to warn the police.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, guys. The tornado's trying to come down right here. The winds are to the north and it's kind of back around, the tornado's right here, it's coming on the ground right here, get the sirens going. Get the sirens going, I'm telling you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Tonight some 2,000 buildings, roughly a quarter of the city had severe damage. The local electric company says at least 18,000 customers were out of power late this afternoon. I want to join us now on the phone to get more of the scope of the devastation here is Bill and Jane Lant (ph). Bill is a member of the Missouri State House. He and his wife have an incredible story. Bill, let's take us back to the moment you were out have been having dinner I understand when the tornado hit.

BILL LANT, JOPLIN RESIDENT (via phone): We had gone to the local IHOP on 20th and (INAUDIBLE). My wife and granddaughter met us there, they had been in town shopping, and my son and grandson and I joined them. We had just gotten seated and gotten our glasses of water and ready to order, and I noticed another state representative and his family, Bill White, were there at the IHOP.

And Bill, I had my back to the windows, and Bill was looking outside and he got up and walked to the door. When he came back, he told me that -- he says, get our family under cover, there's debris in that storm cloud, so that was a pretty good indication there was a tornado. We got up and with Bill's efforts about 40-something people crowded into the kitchen, Jane and I and the grandkids all got down on the floor. They got under some stainless steel tables, and basically just rode the thing out.

It was -- it was -- it seemed like it lasted forever, but I'm sure it was just something like a minute or two of actual wind. But as it started quieting down we looked around and there was literally no walls. Of course all the windows were gone. The roof was gone. Basically all that was left was the kitchen. But I could, in the midst of the thing, I could hear Jane and my granddaughter both praying over the noise of the storm, so they were doing some pretty loud praying.

KING: And thank the Lord those prayers were successful to the degree of keeping you safe. Jane, if you can hear me, what happened then? Obviously now you're in the IHOP and the IHOP is pretty much destroyed around you, your car out in the parking lot, what was the scene outside?

JANE LANT, JOPLIN RESIDENT (via phone): Whenever it has finally calmed down and we were trying to get out from underneath the tables and all, all of a sudden, someone yelled there's gas, and so it was still raining and still hailing out, and we all got out and we had nowhere to go. You know, you're just not used to that.

The cars were completely demolished and we had both vehicles there and all -- like 40, 50 people, but there was nowhere to go. And there was a little bit of an overhang on the front of the IHOP, and I huddled the children under there, but still thinking maybe there would be gas there, I'm very protective of them, and it was just an experience is the only way we can put it.

KING: And Bill, you drove around the town, I want you to describe what your town, your community looks like tonight, and as you do so, have you been in touch with your state rep there? Have you been in touch, what is the sense of the hope or the dwindling hopes -- forgive me for saying it that way -- of finding any survivors at this hour now, pretty much a day later in the rubble?

B. LANT: Oh about an hour ago, I was visiting with the Newt County (ph) Sheriff's Department, the fellows had a mobile command unit set up down on South Main and no one is giving up. I mean there's still a lot of people coming in, volunteers are coming in and searching through rubble. As I drove through town, we had a devastating tornado hit our business three years ago, but we're out on a rural location with the business and as I was driving through town, I was just absolutely amazed at the destruction and the way everything is so piled up, there could easily be people still in basements and crawl spaces and so I'm certainly not giving up on survivors being found.

KING: Bill and Jane Lant, we appreciate your time tonight. We're going to keep in touch and we share your hopes -- we share your hopes that the search and rescue teams can find some miracles in that rubble tonight and into the morning hours if necessary. We'll keep in touch with the Lants. Thank you so much.

Let's check in now with our meteorologist Chad Myers. He's in the CNN Severe Weather Center, and Chad, when you hear the stories like that, you see the pictures like this, people who are veterans, seasoned people who have tornadoes in their community, nothing like this, tell us why.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well because this was the big tornado of the day. There may have not been one bigger tornado or as big tornado, the rest of the day. Yesterday wasn't a big severe weather day. Today we'll have more tornadoes probably than yesterday, but there was one, there was one tornado that rolled through that town and it was an F-4 tornado and I'll get to that scale in a little bit.

But what we have here is the town of Joplin, right there, 50,000 people. I heard you say that, 50,000 people in the city of Joplin proper. But there are suburbs literally around Joplin. You add it all together, that's about 150,000 people within about five miles of downtown Joplin. So you get all this together and there is a giant hook on a super cell and that super cell is all by itself, no weather here, no weather here, no weather here. It's all by itself. It's choosing all of this moisture to come in and gobble up, literally, the atmosphere here, making it the most severe storm possible which is called the mesocyclone (ph) or the severe super cell.

It took the path. There's downtown Joplin right through here. That's the kind of the gray area, a lot of concrete buildings downtown and then down to the south, 20th and 26th Street, right across range line, and I know you will be show pictures later. We've been showing them all day of a Wal-Mart and of a Home Deport. That is right the exact same spot that that representative you just talked to was. That's the exact same spot. There's not much at all left of that Wal- Mart and very little at all left of the outside part of the Home Depot.

I guarantee somehow there will be people still trapped in this debris and in this rubble, John, and we will find them days to come and they will still be alive. This rain is helping them believe it or not because rather than be dehydrated, they can drink the rain water to stay alive. I know it's an ugly thought, but staying alive is staying alive.

KING: Important context from Chad Myers there and we share your hopes Chad. Chad's going to be back with us in a little bit because the rain may be helping those right now, but Chad also will tell us (INAUDIBLE) ominous forecast for the region tomorrow -- more on that in a little bit -- coming up here also back live to Joplin, more from our reports on the ground, plus an assessment of the damage from a top official with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Look at these pictures, stunning pictures here; this is a hospital parking lot, a hospital parking lot. The tornado not only hit Joplin hard, it hit the hospital as well. Look at the destruction. Look up in the corners. Look around building in the back, the car in the foreground, the telephone pole down here -- this just one tiny snapshot. Tonight roughly a quarter of the buildings in Joplin, Missouri, that's about 2,000 structures either heavily damaged or simply just gone, not there anymore. The hospital took a direct hit.

People 70 miles away found some of the X-rays blown into their driveway. The storm also demolished a Home Deport. Let's stop and take a look. Here's the swathe of the storm right here about a mile wide at its widest point, four miles long as it came through. Let me take that off for you. I want to come in now and zoom in on this Home Depot. Take a look at the building. You have one in your community, I'm sure.

You see the tar building right here. You see the parking lot out here, a pretty traditional structure right there. That was then. This is now. Look at this as it plays out. That is that same Home Depot, just gone, the building just destroyed, the debris thrown all around here. You just see the inside of the building, just the power of the destruction. You see the aftermath -- people coming to see there. Look at this. Tossed like toys right there. Searchers of course combing through all this rubble as anxious townspeople wait and hope.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My dad and my uncle are in there and I'm hoping and praying to God they're OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When was the last time you heard from them?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Before the tornado hit. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Casey Wian is with us now live from Joplin and Casey you hear the anguish, the fear, the anxiety right there. Give us the latest on the search and what you have seen as you have wandered through this devastated community today.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well John, we were with the search and rescue team as it arrived at that Home Depot and we met that young woman, 17-year-old Andrea and she was in tears as you can imagine, fearing that her father and her uncle were trapped inside that building. We still don't know if they're in or if they're out. What we do know is that they have pulled one survivor out of that Home Depot. It's unbelievable that anybody survived given the condition of that structure, but they also did find three fatalities and they're still continuing to look.

They have been hampered as we have been reporting by the weather all day long, but they're still going at it. It was really amazing seeing that the rescue effort, they were using skip loaders to move big pallets full of propane tanks like you would put in a barbecue across a parking lot, very dangerous thing to do because those things could have exploded. But they were so anxious to get (INAUDIBLE) the people that may have been trapped inside that structure that they were willing to take that risk -- John.

KING: And Casey, any sense about a warning, "A", did people get enough warning and "B", is there -- and we've talked about this in the past -- last week we were talking about the governor of Mississippi in the concept of the floods -- any sense of warning fatigue, if you will. It's been such a heavy storm season people may be ignoring, not taking the warnings seriously?

WIAN: Absolutely we -- you get a mixed picture from the people we have spoken to so far today. Some people said they did have warning, 20 minutes worth of warning and they were able to seek shelter and get out of the path of the tornado or at least not get the brunt of it. But a lot of people did say you know we're sort of used to them. We didn't think it was going to be that bad.

And one young man we interviewed said he was working in this hospital here and he said he got five minutes of warning. Now maybe he didn't hear the earlier ones, but he said by the time he started heading down to the basement there was just glass breaking all over the place, his ears were popping, the roof of the structure lifted up and came back down. He said he didn't have enough warning, but people's experiences are definitely varied -- John.

KING: Casey Wian live on the scene for us in Joplin tonight and you can hear and see there the weather and the wind complicating, complicating the search and rescue efforts. Casey thanks.

Joining me now on the phone is Terry Darby. His home was destroyed last night and he's calling us this evening from a shelter where he will be spending the night. Mr. Darby, thank you for your time on this terrible day. Let me ask you just first and foremost were you at home when this hit and take me there, what did it sound like? What did it feel like?

TERRY DARBY, LOST HOME IN TORNADO (via phone): Yes I was and it was -- it started out as a nice, clear day, and then all of a sudden it just got really dark and the wind came up and it sounded just like a train. You know, people have described the sound like a train, that's exactly what it sounds like and then all of a sudden, you know limbs come flying through the windows and mortar comes down and bricks go everywhere. I mean it really, it really looked bad.

KING: What room of your -- what room were you in when it happened?

DARBY: I was in the living room, sitting watching television as a matter of fact.

KING: Any warning at all?

DARBY: No, there was no warning, period.

KING: No warning period, and what does your neighborhood -- what does your home look like sir and your neighborhood now?

DARBY: Well, if you look at any -- have looked at any archival footage of the bombing during World War II of Hamburg or Dresden, I think that probably gives you a pretty good idea of how it looks.

KING: You have obviously made it safely to a shelter. What's your sense of your neighbors and your friends? Did you lose people in your neighborhood, sir?

DARBY: I believe there were three or four lost in my complex alone. I lived in a four-plex (ph) and I'm staying right now at McCauley Catholic (ph) High School in Joplin.

KING: You mentioned if you looked at archival footage of the war you would see it. We've looked at a lot of the pictures come in today and you're exactly right. You see what it looks like a bomb zone. It looks like things have been blown up including your church. You're a parishioner at St. Mary's I understand and I've looked at the before and now the devastation today, have you had a chance to see that and what's the sense in the community?

DARBY: You know I haven't had an opportunity. They came and got me about 1:30, 2:00 in the morning because I really didn't want to leave my home, because I have a pet cat. And the fire department came and made me leave because they were afraid that the remaining structure on top of my facility was going to cave in.

KING: And, sir, it's probably maybe a tough question to answer, hours after all this, but what next for you, do you have insurance? Can you rebuild, do you know?

DARBY: No, I don't, and I can't rebuild because this was a four- plex (ph) that I rented. So, you know, I don't -- my plans right now are up in the air. I really don't have any. KING: Mr. Darby, we want to thank you for your time tonight and let you know personally and your entire community of course in our thoughts and prayers and we wish you the best, sir.

Joining up now from Joplin live Richard Serino, he's the deputy administrator from Federal Emergency Management Agency and Mr. Serino, let me just start with the latest on the search and rescue efforts tonight, 116 people dead, that ties this for the deadliest tornado in our history. I think it's sadly safe to say we will eclipse that number, but what is your sense and your hope of the number of missing and whether you'll be successful in finding them?

RICHARD SERINO, DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR, FEMA: Well the local first responders have done unbelievable yeomen's work, they have been out there in the rain -- I was out with a crew about a half hour ago, it started pouring, started hailing and the work that they kept doing, picking through the rubble trying to find the survivors. In the one- block area, this one team has been at it for hours, literally using their hands.

They had some heavy equipment there, going in there actually looking to try and find some of the survivors. They knew there was some people missing in that block. But the first responders, the urban search and rescue teams, the police officers, the firefighters, the EMTs and paramedics have been doing heroic work saving lives in the last 24 hours.

KING: At least seven people rescued today. Is there a sense of what kind of a clock you're racing in terms of you've got people now that could be buried in this ruble going on hours, you've got obviously nightfall, you've got some pretty nasty weather. What is your sense of how much time you have to have hope that you could still find people alive?

SERINO: We hold out hope for awhile. We'll hold out hope for days, actually. The weather has been, you know, it's been pretty rough, it's very windy (INAUDIBLE) rainy. The temperature has dropped a bit. It's cool, but the work is the rescue workers, the firefighters, the EMTs have been really been you know, digging down trying to find people. They have ideas where some of the people are and they're going to target those areas first and they have been going on a grid search neighborhood by neighborhood throughout the city.

KING: Do you have a sense at this hour of how many people are unaccounted for or is it just still too chaotic to have a good number?

SERINO: Speaking with the fire chief and the city manager they didn't have a good sense of how many people were missing. They do have a list. They're going through that. It's really a local issue. We're really here -- FEMA is here as really part of the team to support the governor, to support the city of Joplin in any way that we can. The president has made it clear, he sent me down here today and made it clear that the full force of the federal family is going to be here to support.

KING: And as you've gone through the community with those search and rescue operations, observing yourself to see what Joplin needs and what the federal government might be able to do to help. Have you ever seen anything like this?

SERINO: This is total devastation. As far as you can see, we're standing on top of a hill here, the hospital is standing, but nothing else around it is standing for four to six miles long and approximately a half mile wide and there is absolutely nothing. It's just completely leveled throughout there. (INAUDIBLE) we're still focusing on the search and rescue operation, the local first responders and the state, and we're also looking to the future as we get to that, we'll be here for the long haul. We're not going to be here just for today, for a week, we're going to be here for months.

KING: And as you deal with this, your first overnight there, is there any one or maybe two things that Joplin needs tonight that you're waiting for, whether it's more heavy equipment or whether it's something that somebody watching at home or wants to help. Is there something they could do?

SERINO: Right now, one of the things we want people to do is actually the survivors in the area to contact FEMA if they need help. We'll be able to get some individual assistance. The president declared a disaster area and the people in the area really they can call 1-800-621-FEMA, 1-800-621-FEMA so we can go start the recovery process with them.

KING: And in terms of shelter, in terms of food, whether it's for those, the people who don't have a home to go to tonight, and for everybody there trying to help, are you in good shape in that regard?

SERINO: Right now the shelters they have opened. They have enough room in the shelters. A lot of people (INAUDIBLE) talked to some of the survivors have actually gone to stay with family for the interim and then as the long-term, you know we're looking at what they need for housing. Right now the short term sheltering, food and commodities seem to be OK. I've talked with, again the people in Joplin they say that they didn't have any unmet needs right now. But as we've stated, we're just in the first hours of this and we're going to be here to support them in the long-term.

KING: Richard Serino is the deputy administrator of FEMA. Mr. Serino, we wish you the best (INAUDIBLE) ahead and you and all those you're working with down there. We appreciate your time tonight on a very busy day.

When we come back, we're going to hear from the principal of a Catholic school that was flat out destroyed, destroyed. Take a look right there by the tornado.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Back live to Joplin in just a moment, also to Chad Myers in the Severe Weather Center, but first we wanted to show you just a little bit to help put this storm into context. It has been such a terrible 2011 so far in terms of killer tornadoes -- you see here a map across right here. Just want to bring up a little help with the deaths here.

In February, there was one fatality and one tornado, March, one and one fatality, April, 48 killer tornadoes, 361 people killed then, May so far two and at least 116 killed in Joplin, Missouri tonight. As you can see if you look at all this as it plays out, it is a horrible, horrible thing. Now you heard Chad talk about this early in the program, the scale you'll hear, is it -- is it a one, is it a two, is it a three or four? Well this is how this works. Zero is 65 to 85 mile an hour winds (INAUDIBLE) scale. Eighty-six to 110 gets you a one. Hundred and eleven, 135 two, this storm was up here, 166 to 200. It is a four. A massive tornado, an EF-5, would be over 200-mile-an- hour winds, stunning to see all that.

Now, this is what just happened in Joplin, Missouri. The National Weather Service warns there's a 45 percent chance of another tornado outbreak in the Midwest tomorrow.

Let's go right back to Chad Myers in the severe weather center.

Chad, 45 percent chance, show us the areas most at risk.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, it's all set up again, John, for tomorrow. And we're even seeing some storms tonight and if you're around Cincinnati or southward in northern Kentucky, you've got a line of cells heading your way, also north of Tulsa. And moving right back into Joplin, which is why actually some of our live shots have either sounded or looked dot perfect because it rains on our satellite dish.

And just like if you have Direct TV or DISH, sometimes your signal goes out when it rains. Well, our signal goes out when we try to shoot it back up to the satellite as well. So, we lose signals every once in a while there.

But from Oklahoma City southward, a couple of storms are rotating today and they will continue to rotate tonight.

Zooming in on Joplin, it's just -- it's been just such an ugly couple of days right there. Very heavy rain cell, not severe technically, but just to the south of Joplin, tornado watches are in effect all the way down to the Texas border, and then farther off to the east, we are going to see that weather move through Cincinnati.

And these are the areas you asked me to pinpoint these. Let's just zoom this out a little bit, the same areas will be affected for tomorrow. Let me show you what we're expecting for severe weather, all the way to the Northeast, back down through St. Louis and into Oklahoma.

Now, I'm drawing the exact same place that we have severe weather right now. And that has been the problem, John, one cell, one storm, another after another, coming out of the same spots. We've had them -- I'm going to zoom this out one more time. We've had weather in the same areas, tornado alley, Dixie alley, for -- I would say, I don't know -- at least the last three or four weeks, significant tornadoes, almost every day, one place or another. Most of the time, they miss everyone. So, they don't get the media attention. But a trough has been in the atmosphere, it's turned like this.

When you get a trough in the jet stream that does something like that, little pieces come out of the west, bring down cold air this way, bring up warm air this way, they're little low pressures. They want to make like a suction, they make like a vacuum. They bring in moisture. They bring in cold air and they clash right along that jet stream.

The jet stream is essentially the road map, the roadway, for what all severe happens. We have cool air that's been aloft. We've had warm air down at the surface, yesterday. That warm air bubbled. Literally, that Joplin storm was the most severe storm of the day. The only one that put down a big tornado and yet it hit a major populated area.

Had it hit a wheat field, we wouldn't be standing here today, but it didn't hit a wheat field, it hit a city. And that city had hail to the north of it, and all of a sudden, the spinning down to the bottom of it. And at the bottom part of that cell, of the southwestern part of that cell called the mesocyclone or the super cell is where that tornado came from.

And it rolled right through just south of the downtown Joplin, for that big, long stretch that you saw, that big red area that was right exactly where all that damage was. And some of it is devastation where you can't even find the house, you would never know there was a house there, except for the part that there is a slab sitting down there where the house should still be -- John.

KING: We'll keep in touch with Chad throughout the night and, of course, into tomorrow as well, as he tracks not only what happened in Joplin, but the severe weather yet to come. Thanks, Chad.

And the tornado Chad was just outlining for you there, well, it destroyed both St. Mary's Catholic Church and its elementary school. You see the before and after picture there. The beautiful church on the left, the shell of what is left on the right, the cross is still standing, the rest of the building, devastated.

The church's pastor, the Reverend Justin Moynihan (ph), rode out the storm in the rectory bathtub. Parishioners dug him out alive.

And joining me now is Stephen Jones. He's the principal of what used to be St. Mary's Elementary School. He's on the telephone.

Let me just start, Mr. Jones. Are all of your students, to the best of your knowledge, safe and accounted for?

STEPHEN JONES, PRINCIPAL, ST. MARY'S ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: We are actually missing one, a little girl and one of her parents has not been heard from at this time and we're hoping to hear something soon. But, just like everyone else in the community, it's very difficult to make communication, cell phones don't always work. And so, getting hold of people and knowing where they are is very difficult right now.

KING: Sir, when you look at that church and the school and what it looks like today, what goes through your mind?

JONES: Well, obviously, we just have to completely rebuild. The rectory center -- I mean, the parish center across the street, it's just completely down. The church is devastated as well as the building. And so, all of our books, materials, supplies, papers and everything are just completely ruined.

And so, we'll have to replace just absolutely everything. Like me, the people in our community, with their homes.

KING: And tell me about your personal circumstances -- where were you when this hit, sir?

JONES: Well, I am a little bit south of town, when I was told that it was hit and, in fact, my son was in Harrison, Arkansas with my younger grandson and a granddaughter. And my oldest grandson was actually at home by himself, his mother was at Wal-Mart, and she was locked in and they were not allowing people to leave, and so, I and my -- my wife and I drove to their house approximately three or four miles away from our home, we ended up going down sidewalks because the streets were so cluttered with lines and streets and so forth, that we -- and we had to turn around a couple of times, finally, made it and found that everyone's safe.

Right now, we have been working on trying to shore up some windows and things in the house. The neighborhood he lives in is totally devastated. But he happens to be in one of the very few homes that it's not livable right now, but very clearly reparable. I noticed that -- I heard you saying earlier about all the houses being gone, you can't even tell where you are.

One of the things I discovered is turning on my GPS driving down the street would help me identify cross streets. I could -- once you're on a main street, you're OK. But landmarks are just absolutely impossible to recognize right now.

KING: And so this is the community where --

JONES: The other problem we're having --

KING: You live and work and you pray here, and you don't really know where you are when you're driving around right now. Is that what you're saying?

JONES: Oh, absolutely not. Absolutely not. You just cannot tell a treat corner as you normally would.

Last night, we were looking for some -- grandparents of my daughter-in-law, and walking down the street, it was impossible to recognize even some large buildings, something like the Olympic Fitness Center, a bank that was just completely knocked down.

One of the things that we're having problems with now, of course, is even trying to do some repairing or adjustment as you can see, the rain and the wind is blowing, we have also had lightning, can't get up on a ladder if you're trying to do something outside. And so, it's impossible to make any kind of adjustments in many cases.

My son and I went to Neosho, which is about 20 miles away from here, to buy some lumber because we understood many of the lumberyards were closed. One lumberyard, in fact, is completely gone. Home Depot they said is just completely flattened and no longer here in Joplin.

KING: As I watched you and I cannot tell you how much we appreciate your time tonight especially in these circumstances. I'm watching you in this horrible weather shivering, and I'm just wondering, sir, your sense, because this is your community. There are search and rescue teams still out there tonight, looking for people who are missing and unaccounted for.

In the conditions -- in the conditions, as you feel them and experience them right now, does that dampen your hopes that there will be some miracles, some encouraging stories in the next stay or two?

JONES: Oh, absolutely. We're hoping -- you know, Joplin is the place that we had something called our Connor Hotel fell many, many years ago. And there were three men trapped in it and they found one alive after about five days. And so, I'm hoping that anyone that is trapped and so forth could be rescued and saved, and that very few life that has not only been discovered to be lost, I'm hoping no other lives will be lost, of course.

And our church is down. You know, that's the place we go to pray. We have a couple of other churches in the community, though, and I'm sure people will be there gathering -- and not only just for prayers, but also just to make contact with other people and help each other.

KING: Stephen Jones is the principal of St. Mary's Elementary School -- sir, we appreciate your time tonight and we wish you the best, and you can be assured that you and your community are in our thoughts and prayers as we go forward. Appreciate your time tonight, sir.

JONES: OK. Well, thank you.

KING: Thank you, sir. Take care.

We still have a lot more important news to cover, including this -- President Obama left Ireland early tonight because of a volcano in Iceland. We'll explain that.

Plus, another addition to the field of Republicans who would like to take the president's job.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. A lot of news tonight, in addition to the Joplin, Missouri tornado.

Here's the latest you need to know right now:

President Obama is spending the night in London after a jubilant day in Ireland. He visited the hometown of his great-great-great- grandmother on his mother's side. Got that? And he spoke to a crowd of about 25,000 people in Dublin. But the president had to leave Ireland early so Air Force One could avoid ash from a huge volcanic eruption in Iceland. Many commercial airplanes also canceling transatlantic flights because of that.

In Philadelphia today, a major roundup of alleged organized crime leaders. Among those arrested by the FBI, the reputed Philly boss of La Cosa Nostra.

The Justice Department today filed suit to stop the proposed merger of H&R Block and TaxACT, saying it would hurt consumers by cutting competition in the tax preparation business.

And recapping the day's top story, rescue crews tonight trying to find victims of last night's deadly tornado in Joplin, Missouri. So far, today, seven people have been found alive. The tornado killed 116 people, which makes it one of the deadliest tornadoes in U.S. history.

When we come back, presidential politics. Another Republican officially decided today he's in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Back to your coverage of the deadly tornado in just a moment. But there's important political news today.

In Des Moines, Iowa, today, the former Minnesota governor, Tim Pawlenty, who's been moving around the country for months, made it official. He says he's running for president and he says that President Obama has not delivered on his biggest promise.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM PAWLENTY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Fluffy promises of hope and change, they don't buy our groceries, make our mortgage payments, put gas in our car, or pay for our children's school clothes or other needs. So, in my campaign, I'm going to take a different approach. I'm going to tell you the truth. And the truth is, Washington, D.C. is broken.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

Let's talk presidential politics over. Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is here, as is our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

I don't give much campaign advice. But I think Governor Pawlenty needs a better advanced (INAUDIBLE) of the top. The backdrop could have been a little better. The Iowa state is a beautiful building. GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

KING: But that was not actually all that impressive.

So, where does he fit in? Governor Pawlenty is now in. If you look at -- and we'll show you some polling in New Hampshire in a minute -- but if you look at national polls, he tends to be down single digits and yet, when you talk to serious Republican strategists, they say Romney's the front-runner, but don't count him out.

BORGER: You know, I talked to one strategist today who called him a tortoise. You know, he's not offensive to anybody in the Republican Party. They haven't wholeheartedly embraced him, largely because they don't know who he is. But evangelicals like him, fiscal conservatives like him, Republicans like his record as governor.

And so, they think slow and steady, slow and steady, that he's somebody who can eventually do well.

KING: And the reason he's going to get more attention, he's been getting some, the reason he will get more now is because people are not running. Haley Barbour, the governor of Mississippi, decided not to run.

Over the weekend, if you haven't been paying attention, Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana, former top Bush administration official, he decided not to run. He issued this statement: "On matters affecting us all, our family constitution gives veto to the women's caucus, and there's not override provision. Simply put, I find myself caught between two duties. I love my country; I love my family more."

Translation there, if you haven't figured it out on your own, Mrs. Daniels said no.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, a wife should have a say. Bu, anyway, but, look -- I mean, the reality, I agree with Gloria, that he is somebody who might be a tortoise, but he also is somebody who has been pulling low digits, because he's been up against people who are better known.

He is fiscal conservative. He is somebody, she said, evangelicals like, and he doesn't have baggage that a lot of the other high profile candidates have. He doesn't have the health care problem that Mitt Romney has, the personal problems that Newt -- and Medicare problem that Newt Gingrich has, and the fact that Jon Huntsman actually worked for President Obama until like three weeks ago.

The question is whether or not he can raise money. And that is what everyone is looking at, the end of June, the quarterly report whether he can get the dollars.

KING: You hear this grumbling, and you always hear grumblings. You hear these grumblings. You see it in our polls about the Republican field. Oh, we don't like these guys. We don't like these guys.

Because of that, people circle back and they say, what about Jeb Bush? Maybe we can get the former governor of Florida who happens to be the brother of former president. Maybe Jeb Bush will run. Well, here we go. "While I'm flattered by everyone's attention, encouragement, my decision has not changed. I will not be a candidate for president in 2012."

I was going to make a joke about maybe checking --

BORGER: A wife veto, right.

KING: It would be wrong.

Let's put this into context. I remember in 1992, everybody said George H.W. Bush is unbeatable. And look at these guys, they're awful.

BORGER: Right.

KING: We got Cuomo. We got to get Lloyd Benson. We got to get somebody. Bill Clinton happened to win and he won two terms as president of the United States.

BORGER: Right. They were all -- they were all complaining because Al Gore decided not to run. Cuomo decided not to run. Dick Gephardt decided not to run.

Lo and behold, this governor that nobody knew, except for a bad speech or two from the state of Arkansas, comes in and wins and decides to focus on the economy.

And I talked to a Republican who worked for George H.W. Bush at the time. You know, they were 71 percent in the polls. It was post- Gulf War. He said we were so cocky. We were sure we were going to win.

And the Obama people are saying, they don't intend to make that mistake.

KING: When you talk to Republicans every day, is that what they are like or do they really have grumbles about this?

BASH: They're really are -- it's not so much grumbles. It's is sort of a loud sigh because they're not sure how it's going to play out. And everybody who they are looking at now isn't an obvious rock star.

The fact that the House majority whip -- excuse me -- the House majority leader Eric Cantor said he thought Paul Ryan could be a good candidate, even though Paul Ryan, the House budget chairman who has a controversial Medicare plan, said yesterday on Sunday talk shows very clearly I am not running. I think that speaks volumes as to where they are.

And one person speaking of Congress that we need to focus on is Michelle Bachmann because she has announced. She could announce. If she does, Iowa is completely turned upside down.

BORGER: So, here's my question and maybe both of you can answer it. Every Republican I talk to say this is a seminal election. If it's such a seminal election, why can't they get the candidates they want to run, you know, that the establishment would like to run, why aren't they getting in the race this time?

KING: Who cares about the establishment? Who cares about the establishment?

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Because it's the money people.

KING: We'll see. We got a long way to go. People are always grumbling about the field.

Governor Pawlenty, welcome to the fray. We'll see you. We have a debate in New Hampshire in just a couple weeks. We hope you'll be there.

Dana Bash, Gloria Borger -- thanks for coming in.

When we come back, live back to Joplin, an iReporter who saw some powerful images. We'll see them only here on CNN. Live pictures right there as we go to break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Among those volunteering to help to try to rescue people, to help with the search and rescue operations in Joplin, Missouri, today was Grant Deardorff. Grant went there as soon as he could after the storm. He also photographed the tornado's destruction and submitted some of those photos to CNN iReport. He was at home in nearby Webb City when the tornado hit.

Grant, let me just start by asking you. So, you live nearby. You were not hit directly. Why did you decide to go out and head to Joplin when you heard the big tornado had hit?

GRANT DEARDORFF, PHOTOGRAPHED TORNADO'S DESTRUCTION: Well, I wasn't sure of the state of Joplin at the time. My wife was feeding my 1-year-old son and I looked at her and I just said, I think I need to go help.

I don't know what's out there, but I brought my camera with me. And I thought I was going to take pictures of some downed signs and missing awnings. And I was really surprised when I saw the destruction. And I know that help was the most important thing.

KING: When you say help was the most -- take me through your day today. What did you do to help? And any successful rescues?

DEARDORFF: Well, first, I'd to actually say that my prayers are with people in Joplin and the community. I actually work for the American Cancer Society and part of what we're doing today is trying to formulate a plan of what we can do to help a cancer patient in the area. And if a cancer patient that used to get treatment here at St. John's in the area can't get treated, they can call our 1-800 number at 1-800-ACS-2345 and figure out how to get treatment.

The rest of the day was actually checking on some friends. We got some friends that work that Christ in Youth. They all lost their homes, making sure that people were OK in my family and the surrounding community, and knowing that the search and rescue people are doing what they do best, and hopefully finding more people.

KING: And, Grant, as you took your photos, you submitted many of them to CNN iReport and there are some pretty dramatic images here. What jumped out of you? Which image struck you the most?

DEARDORFF: The image that stuck with me the most was the image where I was up on top of a hill behind where the Auldey (ph) and Walmart used to be. And I was looking off to the west. And I could see all the way to the horizon and I could see St. John's and just the path of destruction.

And in front, there was water from the alleys that was gone, Academy and Walmart were demolished, and there was a pickup truck that somebody is stuck an American flag in the tailgate of. As I looked at that, as the sun was setting, it reminded me of the hope of Americans, the hard work and determination and of all the countless volunteers, just the regular men and women in the community and mayors, that went out to dig their friends and dig their family out of rubble and make sure they could help everybody they could -- and to me that image was an image of hope that despite all of the destruction that's here today, we're still going to stand strong and come together as a community. And I think the American flag represents that hope very well for us.

KING: Grant Deardorff, appreciate your time tonight and appreciate your dramatic submissions to CNN iReport. Grant, take care and God bless to taking care of the volunteer effort in Joplin.

This story just into CNN. Our crews in Tripoli, Libya, report it turned into a night of very heavy NATO airstrikes. We've heard at least a dozen explosions in the Libyan capital. Right now, smoke rising from the compound of the Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi. The Libyan government says 12 rockets hits that popular guard compound.

Our reporters is staying on top of that story. And, of course, the tornadoes as well.

That's all for us tonight. We'll live from Missouri tomorrow.

"IN THE ARENA" starts right now.