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Millions Face Severe Weather Alert; Interview With Phil Bryant; Deadly Tornadoes Rip Through Arkansas, Mississippi; Violent Clashes Disrupt Pro-Ukrainian Protest; Tornado Emergency in Mississippi; Clippers Owner Facing Fallout from Alleged Racist Comments

Aired April 28, 2014 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Jake, thanks very much.

Happening now, breaking news. Tornado emergency -- a potentially deadly line of severe thunderstorms battering multiple states. And at least one twister has now touched down. New images of the devastation are coming in. And a very frightening evening is ahead for millions of Americans in the storm's path.

Out of control -- rapidly escalating violence rocks Ukraine. Peaceful protests suddenly turn violent. Soldiers are bombed. And the mayor of one Ukraine city is shot.

How close is the country to going over the brink?

Shaking up the search -- new equipment and outside crews are now coming in to help find Malaysia Flight 370.

Will this new effort succeed in finally locating the missing jumbo jet?

NBA scandal -- corporate sponsors are fleeing the Los Angeles Clippers after racist remarks attributed to the team's owner.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And if you don't feel it, don't come to my games.

Don't bring black people and don't come.


BLITZER: Can Donald Sterling survive the scandal rocking one of the best teams in the league?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: And we're following the breaking news. Potentially deadly weather threatening millions of Americans right now over a large swath of the country. At least one tornado has already touched down, following other storms that have killed more than a dozen people. Among the latest developments, a line of ferocious thunderstorms now moving across the South, prompting tornado watches and warnings. At least one twister has been reported on the ground in Yazoo City, Mississippi.

The National Weather Service says some 24 million Americans are now at risk of severe storms. At least 16 people have been killed, 14 of them in Arkansas. That state's governor, Mike Beebe, will join us live in just a few minutes.

And take a look at this disturbing warning that went out viewers of WTVA in Tupelo, Mississippi just a few minutes ago.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're still on the air. You've got to be in your planned (INAUDIBLE). We're still on the air. This is a tornado emergency for Lee County. This is a tornado ripping through the City of Tupelo as we speak and this could be deadly.

Let's go to tower cam. There's a damaging tornado on the ground right now. Everybody in basement now. Basement now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go. Let's go.


BLITZER: We have our correspondents and storm chasers that are tracking this weather emergency in real time. Much more on what just happened there in Tupelo. That's coming up.

But let's go to our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray.

She's in the CNN Severe Weather Center -- Jennifer, tell our viewers what they specifically need to know right now.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, Wolf, this is developing minute by minute. We have tornado warnings in effect all across the South, from Mississippi stretching into portions of Alabama. That storm that ripped through Tupelo now entering into Alabama, Northwestern Alabama. There is a tornado warning in effect until 4:30 Central time. And this is for Culvert and Franklin Counties.

And if you are in Muscle Shoals or Russellville, you need to take cover now.

This has a history of producing damage. This is a very, very serious situation for you. So take cover if you are in those counties immediately.

There's also tornado warnings still going on, Wolf, in Mississippi. We have one for Monroe County, Aberdeen and Amory. Those cities need to take cover, as well.

You can see the pink boxes that are just lined up across portions of Eastern Mississippi. And this is what we're going to be continuing to deal with for the next several hours, on into the overnight hours. Clay and Webster Counties, a tornado warning for you. The city of Mantee, you need to take cover. As you travel down to the south, Choctaw County is in effect until 4:15 Central time and the list goes on and on, Wolf.

This is a very dangerous situation. In fact, the Storm Prediction Center has labeled this particular tornado watch as a particularly dangerous situation. That doesn't happen very often, only a couple times a year.

Yesterday, we saw that in Arkansas. Today, we're seeing that, again, in Mississippi, Alabama. This is going to be the target. And we're going to have to watch out for very, very dangerous conditions. Very large tornadoes are possible. They could be long-lived, as well. We could see these long track tornadoes.

So if you're anywhere in the vicinity of where those pink boxes were that I just showed you, you need to take cover. This is something you should take very, very seriously. They've actually upgraded this area from Jackson through Tupelo, on to the Tennessee border with a high risk of severe weather and large tornadoes. And that, again, Wolf, is something we only see a couple of times a year. We saw it in Central Arkansas. They nailed it. It's going to be the same for today. We're going to be watching these -- the potential for very large tornadoes to be produced throughout the rest of the afternoon, into the overnight hours.

So those tornado warnings in effect. We continue to see them in effect, most likely, as we go through the afternoon hours.

BLITZER: Jennifer Gray, stand by.

We're going to get back to you for more information.

But right now, the governor of Mississippi, Phil Bryant, is joining us on the phone.

Governor, thanks very much.

I know you've got a crisis going on in your state.

First of all, tell us what the latest is from Tupelo, Mississippi.

We just showed our viewers some very disturbing information coming in.

GOV. PHIL BRYANT (R), MISSISSIPPI: Well, it is troubling. I'm now at our emergency management headquarters. And I just got off the phone with one of our Mississippi Highway Patrolmen, our SHOD team (ph), our response team, is on the ground there at West Jackson and Lumpkin Street. There's heavy damage, obviously. I think several hundred homes, trees down, power lines are down, a gas leak that occurred in an area in West Jackson Street, near Joyner Elementary School. We've got it stopped.

So our efforts now, search and rescue, getting our personal, manpower and equipment into that area and searching for anyone that might be injured.

We have no information regarding any injuries at this time. But that's our first concern. And so I'm just meeting here with our general of the National Guard. You know, we have a National Guard unit there. But primarily, we will be responding with our search and rescue teams as we are now. So we're getting bits and pieces of information that is coming from the Tupelo area.

BLITZER: We saw that funnel cloud going through Tupelo.

Have you confirmed, Governor, that a tornado actually ripped through parts of Tupelo?

BRYANT: It's obvious it was a tornado. Now, we always have concerns about straight line winds or whether it was a tornado. This appeared to be tornadic action in that area, to do that amount of damage. And, of course, you see from the video, it looks like a large, wide area of damage that occurred in that Lee County/Tupelo area. And a second front that may be headed in a similar direction. So that's what we're concerned about now, is trying to judge whether or not we put search and rescue teams on the ground with the threat of another cell moving in that direction.

So a lot going on here at emergency management.

BLITZER: Is it just in the Tupelo area of Mississippi or are other parts of your state clearly impacted, as well?

BRYANT: Oh, other parts. We just got a report just handed to me, a tornado on the ground in Winston County, as well. You mentioned earlier, in and around Yazoo City. I know Madison County in and around the Canton area has got some trees down.

These tornadoes are touching down throughout the state of Mississippi just now, within this front. So we are responding to each and every one of them as we can.

BLITZER: We saw what happened last night in Arkansas, where there were, what, 16 fatalities.

Is it too early to know about injured and, hopefully, nobody was killed?

BRYANT: It is. We've got one city employee in the city of Tupelo that's had an injury. We're providing medical assistance to him now. It is just too early. Literally, I had a -- one of our Highway Patrol units on his cell phone as he was making his way down West Jackson Street, reporting to me about five minutes ago. And so that's where we're at, trying to get crews, emergency responders into that area to find out who needs help and to get them to medical attention as quickly as possible.

BLITZER: What do people in Mississippi need to know right now, Governor, because we knew severe thunderstorms, severe weather was coming to Mississippi. Obviously, once a tornado actually hits the ground, it can be devastating. Speak to the folks in Mississippi right now.

What do you want them to know?

BRYANT: Well, what they need to know is it is not over. There are other cells that are just now moving in the direction of a -- from a southwest to northeast that could have additional tornadoes included in those cells.

So we would not want anyone to believe that if they had -- had received damage from tornado or straight winds, heavy rains in their area. There may be another cell behind that, so they should continue to look for a place of shelter. And if they need immediate assistance, obviously, reach out to their local police departments and sheriff's departments. That will be the first responders on the scene.

But unfortunately, this is going to be a prolonged storm and they need to make sure that they take cover in the event that additional storms should be heading their way.

BLITZER: When you say prolonged, what does that mean, Governor?

BRYANT: It just depends. It's difficult for us to tell them how rapid these storms are moving, but we think well into the everything. Earlier predictions were until 6:00, that there would be heavy damage, particularly in -- as storms that could cause heavy damage throughout that -- coming in, again, from the west, across the Mississippi River from Arkansas.

I spoke to Governor Beebe about a half hour ago and pledged -- and he asked us that we were not utilizing for this storm, we would certainly be on call for assistance. But unfortunately, it looks like we're going to need everything that we have here.

BLITZER: Is FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, contacted?

Are they ready to help?

BRYANT: They are. In fact, they were in a meeting this morning. We began this morning early working with FEMA. And their team was on the ground as of yesterday from here, a press conference about 11:00 today, again warning everyone to be very careful and take these storms very seriously.

Just another note came to me, Lee County -- it touched down in Lee County. A touch down confirmed in Philadelphia, Mississippi. So you're looking at four to five, maybe perhaps half a dozen touchdowns of tornadoes throughout the state of Mississippi now.

So, Wolf, I'd better get back to work.

BLITZER: Governor, good luck to you.

Good luck to all the folks in Mississippi, indeed, throughout the South. We'll stay in close touch with you.

Thank you very much.

BRYANT: Thank you so much.

BLITZER: Mississippi's Governor Phil Bryant.

Let's go to Brandy Davis right now.

She's on the phone. She's currently taking cover in Starkville, Mississippi.

Brandy, tell us what's going on where you are.

BRANDY DAVIS: Hi. Right now, we're just kind of anticipating the weather. We've been watching the radar. We saw the electricity (INAUDIBLE) me and my roommate and our neighbor and her dog are in the hall with blankets and covers and stuff. And we're just kind of taking cover and waiting it out.

BLITZER: Is it -- where are you taking cover?

Are you in the middle of this house?

Is there a basement?

Explain where you're taking cover.

DAVIS: Well, it's kind of like -- it's a -- it's a center of our house. It's near (INAUDIBLE). It's kind of like -- it's a small hall so all the exterior doors lead into that hallway. And we've closed them all off. And there's no windows or anything in there. So it's the safest part of the house.

BLITZER: And when you ran inside, what was it like outside, the last time you saw what was going on outside, Brandy?

What did you see?

DAVIS: Right now, the sky is just kind of -- there's no clouds. It's just grayish. But, yes, we're just kind of waiting it out, you know, watching the radar.

BLITZER: Brandy, good luck to you.

I know you're a student there in Starkville, Mississippi.

Be careful over there.

We'll stay in touch with you and get an update.

Brandy Davis joining us.

Let's go to the U.S. government Storm Prediction Center right now.

William Bunting is joining us.

What's the latest in what can you give us about what's going on right now, Bill?

WILLIAM BUNTING, NOAA STORM PREDICTION CENTER: I think the governor said it well, we have multiple tornadic storms in progress, really, across Central and the Northeastern Mississippi, Northwest Alabama. And this is far from over.

In addition to tornadoes, we also expect very large hail, damaging straight line winds and also flooding. So this is a multi-threat situation this afternoon. And, unfortunately, it will continue into the evening hours.

BLITZER: And not just in Mississippi, but where else?

BUNTING: Extending into northwest Alabama, portions of Middle Tennessee and, actually, the threat of severe storms extends to the northwest, into Eastern Missouri and as far northwest as into Iowa.

So this is covering a large area. And unfortunately, the same will be true as we move into Tuesday and Wednesday. So we have at least two more days before this weather system begins to move off the coast.

BLITZER: I know tornadoes are ranked according to their severity.

How powerful are these?

BUNTING: It's difficult to say right now. They're obviously significant. To really assess the intensity, you've got to get out and do a ground and even aerial damage survey. That will happen in due time. Right now, our focus is on getting the warnings out at our local and National Weather Service offices, watching radar, listening to spotter reports and trying to get as much warning as possible in advance of these storms.

And what's really important is that folks heed those warnings when they're issued for their area.

BLITZER: Because it's critically important. It's literally a life and death matter.

Bill Bunting from the NOAA Storm Protection -- Prediction Center out in Norman, Oklahoma.

Thanks very much for joining us.

We'll check back with you, as well.

We're going to stay on top of this story. At least 16 people, once again, have been killed in this severe weather outbreak. We'll go live to one Arkansas town that took a direct hit. The governor of Arkansas, Mike Beebe, he's standing by to join us live. We'll have new information from him. There you see him.

Plus, disturbing and violent new developments also happening in Ukraine right now. We'll stand by to go there live, as well.


BLITZER: We're following breaking news. Deadly tornadoes ripping through Arkansas, now through Mississippi. Let's go to Arkansas. The governor, Mike Beebe, is joining us from Little Rock right now.

Governor, first of all, our deepest, deepest condolences. I know 14 people have died in Arkansas in these storms. You went and toured the damage. What did you see?

GOV. MIKE BEEBE, ARKANSAS: Well, Wolf, the -- the extent of the damage in terms of the size and area was not as large as some of the other areas that we've seen. But in the areas actually affected, the damage is much, much worse.

The strength of this particular storm had to be in those upper ranges. We saw steel girders that were twisted, steel girders that had been anchored in concrete in the ground and buildings that had been pulled completely out of the ground. So this was a very violent, very strong and I'm quite sure when the weather service ultimately rates it, it will be one of the higher rated tornadoes in terms of the Fugima scale.

BLITZER: Did you have a chance to meet with families --

BEEBE: I did.

BLITZER: -- who have now been devastated by this?

BEEBE: I did indeed. One of the two communities that was hit was also hit three years ago. So, you know, some of those people are asking why again. We've heard all sorts of heroic stories, and we heard some tragic stories.

In one instance, a father and his three little girls were in an area where virtually every house in the subdivision was totally destroyed, not partially destroyed but totally destroyed. His house was completely destroyed. How anybody could live through it, I can't imagine.

But he -- he got into a bathtub with his daughters, and the bathtub was ultimately picked up and turned completely over, and he was under all that debris but escaped with only minor scratches.

On the other hand, we had a situation where a lady had an actual safe room built, one of those concrete structures, and her house was completely gone. The only thing standing was the safe room, and yet she died in the safe -- in the room when the door collapsed or when something went through the door of the safe room.

So you see all sorts of extremes, but our people are pretty resilient. People are working together. Volunteers are working together. Of course, all the state and local agencies as well as the feds are on the scene, too. State and local agencies and first responders, we've gotten very good, unfortunately, at being able to respond to disasters, and they've done a great job. They coordinate well. And search and rescue was the first activity, and then we'll go on from there.

BLITZER: Well, as far as search and rescue, very quickly, Governor, are there folks still missing?

BEEBE: Well, that's hard to get a handle on, you know. Sometimes we don't know where folks are, and we classify them as missing only to find out that a relative has picked them up. They just haven't reported in. so we assume that everyone we cannot account for is missing, and so searches continue.

But at this juncture, there's no specific count as to those missing because it's very difficult to figure out who has already been moved to another location, taken to a hospital perhaps, and -- and who is still unaccounted for. That's why the search and rescue goes on.

BLITZER: Governor Beebe, good luck to everyone in Arkansas and indeed throughout the south. We'll stay in close touch with you. Awful, awful circumstances. Governor Beebe is the governor of Arkansas.

Let's go to Mississippi once again. Martin Savidge is now on the ground for us there. Martin, where are you? What are you seeing?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Wolf, we're about one exit away from the local mall, which was supposed to have suffered damage. Here's the problem we have right now.

The weather has cleared. So that's a blessing for the rescuers. The problem is now we're into traffic gridlock. The highway, which is I- 22, the main highway that runs to Tupelo, is now simply shut down, primarily with both lanes blocked with nothing but, as far as you can see, semi-tractor-trailer trucks. The off ramps, of course, now are getting clogged, because people are trying to get in. We've been watching as emergency vehicles have been trying to make their way closer into the city.

We are only a couple of miles away, but this gridlock has everything stymied at this point. Emergency vehicles have been able to slowly get through, and they are still moving through the area. We were just watching right now as a fire engine goes by. This particular gas station, the overhead awning has suffered severe damage. The power is out in the immediate area. No signs of heavy damage, but there is clear signs that we're on the outskirts of the debris field.

Everything from the way the trees are twisted and knocked down to the way that roots have been peeled off. And clearly by the way residents are walking around, many of them feeling lucky that they missed the worst of it. But how bad is it? We're still trying to find our way to get there.

BLITZER: All right, Martin, once you get to Tupelo and see what's going on, we'll of course, check back with you. Martin Savidge on the way to Tupelo. This just in, we just heard from the governor, just hit by a tornado.

Coming up, we'll have much more of the breaking news coverage. Millions of people bracing for what could be in the coming hours a very, very dangerous night of weather. We'll stay on top of that story.

Also, escalating violence in Ukraine as the United States takes a bold new stance against Russia. Just ahead, I'll speak with President Obama's deputy national security adviser, Tony Blake, and he's standing by live at the White House.


BLITZER: Breaking news out of the south. I want to go to storm chaser Connor McCrorey. He's northeast of Tupelo, which has just been hit by a tornado. He's near Belmont, Mississippi.

Connor, what are you seeing there?

CONNOR MCCROREY, STORM CHASER (via phone): Well, Wolf, we've actually been driving south for the last few minutes and now we just went through Smithville, Mississippi. We're almost to another tornado or storm.

When we were northeast of Tupelo, we saw some pretty significant tree damage where the tornado crossed north of our -- crossed the road where we were going. And we were not in Tupelo, the actual town, but we did have debris falling out of the sky while we were northeast of town. So that's not a good sign for the people of Tupelo, that's for sure.

BLITZER: Are they -- are folks just driving away? What are they doing?

MCCROREY: Right now everyone around here -- it doesn't seem like there are many people who have really taken precautions. There were people out riding around in the tornado warnings. We were driving into Tupelo with other cars that we were passing on the highway. And we're in an armored -- we're in the Abominator, armored storm-chasing vehicle. It's very obvious that we're heading towards a tornado. And there is a tornado emergency for Tupelo, but people were just taking pictures, like usual, ignoring it. It's a little concerning to see that.

BLITZER: It certainly is. All right, Connor, we'll check back with you in a little.

Connor McCrorey is a storm chaser. He's just outside of Tupelo, which was hit. We're going to get back to the breaking news, the tornados, ripping through Arkansas, now Mississippi, elsewhere.

Much more coming up, but there's also important news we're following, including breaking news out of Ukraine.

Take a look at this. This are the latest scenes in eastern Ukraine. Pro-Russian mobs beating pro-Ukrainian protesters while riot police try to intervene elsewhere. One soldier has been killed. The local mayor shot in the back.

Our senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh is in the eastern Ukraine us.

What are you seeing there, Nick?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we've seen one town here again taken by pro-Russian militants who stormed the local administration building and police station. Police offering little resistance in now what's become a practice routine for these pro-Russian rebels, frankly, here.

Barack Obama's expanding of sanctions today pointing out one key Putin aide Igor Sechin, a key figure inside the Kremlin, along with others, too. And perhaps putting in language to suggest future sanctions against sections of the Russian economy. That's done little to slow the passing of violence.

You talked about those clashes in central Donetsk, the main city here, a pro-Ukrainian rally, video there, showing how pro-Russian militants, protesters attacked them with bats. Many people beaten there. Accusations the police didn't do enough to stop that violence and then, of course, the mayor of the second largest city in Ukraine shot while cycling.

A very violent day, increasingly troubling times here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It doesn't look that's easing at all.

Nick, we're going to check back with you later. Nick Paton Walsh on the ground for us in eastern Ukraine.

And amid all this tension on the ground, the Obama administration is now ratcheting up sanctions against President Vladimir Putin's inner circle. Russia in the meantime is threatening that its response will be, quote, "painful."

Let's discuss what's going on. President Obama's deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken is joining us from the White House right now.

Tony, thanks very much for joining us. Some Ukrainians have told us they think these ratcheted-up sanctions are really sanctions like there's so much more they think the U.S. should be doing to which you say?

TONY BLINKEN, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Wolf, two things. First, the sanctions taken even before today have already had a significant impact on Russia and on its economy. We see financial markets down 22 percent since the beginning of the year. We've seen the ruble at all-time lows. We've seen investments drying up. We've seen capital flight.

The sanctions today go to the heart of President Putin's supporters and support system, including two very prominent inner circle figures who control one of the largest energy companies and one of the largest industrial conglomerates, 17 different entities including banks, construction companies, and other important entities, as well as other Russian officials.

This has already had an impact, it's going to have a greater impact. We've already seen today, by the way, that one of the companies in question, the large petroleum company that Mr. Sechin controls, that company wasn't designated, Mr. Sechin was, but its rating, that company's credit rating, was downgraded to just above the junk level.

BLITZER: At what point does Putin himself become sanctioned? Because as you know, there's a lot of money potentially that he controls.

BLINKEN: As the president said today, Wolf, the point is not to go after President Putin. It's to try to get him to change what he's doing. And he has a very hard choice to make. His compact with his people has been to deliver economic growth and in return they would remain politically compliant. Well, that growth is drying up and the only answer for him is to integrate his economy with the world markets and to diversify it away from oil and gas.

And what he's doing now and what we've done in reaction is making it very difficult for him to do that. So he has a choice. He can either continue to do what he's doing in Ukraine and face increasing pressure on his economy and not deliver for his people, or he can choose a de- escalation path which he committed to in Geneva and take a diplomatic course to de-escalate and end this crisis in Ukraine.

BLITZER: As you probably saw, the "New York Times" had a major story saying there is a -- in their words, a tense debate going on inside the Obama administration right now over how far the U.S. should go. Maybe even moving way beyond the Europeans.

Do you want to respond to that suggestion?

BLINKEN: Sure. I think the Treasury Secretary Jack Lew spoke to that earlier today and it's just not true. We have had a very deliberate process led by the president to make sure, two things, one, that as we increase the economic pressure on Russia, we did so in a way that maximized the pressure on Russia and minimize the impacts on the United States and our partner. Second, we've done it in a way that kept the Europeans with us, and indeed today they announced additional measures as well.

That's what we've been doing. The administration is united on that. And it's already had an impact.

BLITZER: The other day I interviewed Ukraine's deputy foreign minister who was in Washington and he said they need weapons. Is the Obama administration ready to provide weapons to Ukraine?

BLINKEN: Wolf, we've already provided a significant amount of nonlethal security assistance to Ukraine over the past few weeks. The vice president was in Ukraine just last week and announced more of that assistance.

Second, they don't need more weapons. The fact of the matter is that, as the president said today, even if we provided more weapons, it wouldn't make a difference in terms of standing up to the Russians. They need to professionalize their military. We'll be working with them on that over time. What we can do most effectively to deter and dissuade Russia is exactly what we're doing. That is to increase the economic pressure on Russia, working in coordination with our allies.

And the other thing we can do that we've been doing is leading the international effort to support Ukraine, to support its economy. We have a major assistance package that it'll be going through, led by the IMF, thanks to American leadership. That's what we can do most effectively for Ukraine.

BLITZER: Tony Blinken is the president's deputy national security adviser.

Tony, thanks very much for joining us.

BLINKEN: Thanks very much for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, millions of people across the south, they are bracing for what could be a very long and dangerous night of severe weather. We'll have more on the breaking tornado coverage. That's coming up.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody, basement now. Basement now. Let's go. Now. What? Now.


BLITZER: WTVA Broadcasting, a weather man there running together with everyone. That's in Tupelo, Mississippi, as a tornado was about to rip through Tupelo.

We spoke with the governor earlier. He briefed us what's going on. This is a severe, severe crisis in Tupelo and elsewhere in Mississippi right now.

Jennifer Gray is at the CNN Severe Weather Center with the latest.

So what are you seeing over there?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Wolf, every time I see that video, it just gives me chills. This is a very dangerous situation. We have a couple of tornado warnings that are very important. And I want to point out, this issued with these were a tornado emergency. We've heard that term a couple of times yesterday and today. Pretty much guarantees there's a tornado on the ground. And it can definitely create widespread destruction and possibly death.

And so if you are in Winston County, you need to take cover now. This is in effect as we speak. Also tornado warnings in effect a little bit farther to the north and east cities of Brooksville and Louisville. This is headed your way. These are moving at about 45 miles per hour. So take cover now if you are in the path of these storms.

And so this is something, Wolf, we're going to be dealing with as we go through the afternoon and the evening hours. I want to zoom out on this just a little bit because you see all these hot pink boxes, these are all tornado warnings and we're still seeing them also in northeastern Mississippi. They are continuing to push to the north and east. We're going to see them push into portions of Alabama. Already are.

Also into Tennessee. Tornado warnings in effect for Clay and Webster Counties right now until 5:00 Central Time, and then these are the storms a little bit farther to the south.

Very important, don't wait until you think you can see the tornado because then it's too late. Get into your safe spot now. A lot of times these tornadoes could be wrapped with rain, you can't see them coming and then in a couple of hours when we lose the daylight, you will really need to have your weather radio handy, you'll need to have all your tools in place, your plan in place, so you can find your safe spot.

Tornado -- tornado watch right now for a lot of Mississippi, Alabama, into southern Tennessee. These storms are racing off to the north and east. Storm Prediction Center is calling this a particularly dangerous situation, something you should take very seriously.

These storms will be heading into portions of eastern Tennessee as we go through the late hours of tonight and then also tornado watches in effect for portions of Illinois on into Iowa. So right now the tornado warnings have lined up basically in Mississippi south of Tupelo and even far west as I-55.

Don't go outside for today, Wolf. It is important to stay inside and just hunker down, get in your safe spot because these are very, very dangerous and can be deadly.

BLITZER: Potentially millions of Americans right now in harm's way.

Jennifer, we'll get back to you shortly.

We'll continue to watch the breaking news. These devastating tornadoes touching down today in Mississippi. And as you just heard, Alabama and Tennessee, maybe Illinois, Iowa, they are all in line as the severe weather continues to pummel the south, the Midwest.

We'll go live to the disaster zones. That's coming up.


BLITZER: We'll have much more on the breaking tornado news in a few moments but first the storm battering the Los Angeles Clippers. Corporate sponsors, they are now fleeing the team because of racist remarks allegedly made by the owner Donald Sterling.

Our national correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is working the story for us.

Suzanne, this story is far from over.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And the sponsors, I mean, it just grows and grows. We've got the fallout tonight continuing. The NBA now planning a press conference to outline what is next after this day of fast-moving developments.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): A firestorm in the NBA over what should happen now to L.A. Clippers' owner Donald Sterling. Today sponsors CarMax, State Farm and Virgin America are cutting their ties with the basketball team in response to racist remarks Sterling allegedly made caught on tape.

Clippers head coach Doc Rivers talked about the toll it's taking on his players.

DOC RIVERS, LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS HEAD COACH: I can't tell you how upset I am, our players are.

MALVEAUX: Over the weekend TMZ Sports aired this edited audio recordings reportedly of Sterling arguing with his girlfriend V. Stiviano over photos she posted on Instagram.

V. STIVIANO, DONALD STERLING'S GIRLFRIEND: People call you and tell you that I have black people on my Instagram and it bothers you?

DONALD STERLING, LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS OWNER: Yes, it bothers me a lot that you want to prove -- broadcast that you're associating with black people. Do you have to?

MALVEAUX: The argument allegedly erupted after Sterling saw this specific photo of Stiviano with basketball legend Magic Johnson.

STERLING: You can do anything but don't put it on Instagram so the world has to see it so they have to call me. And don't bring them into my games, OK?

MALVEAUX: While the NBA launched an expedited investigation and the Players Association demanded that Sterling be barred from attending playoff games, the outrage boiled over. First, with Magic Johnson.

MAGIC JOHNSON, NBA HALL OF FAMER: Don't smile in my face, shake my hand and then you don't really respect me or want me to be around or come to your games as the owner of the Clippers.

MALVEAUX: Then, other NBA stars.

KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR, NBA HALL OF FAMER: Actions speak louder than words, and Mr. Sterling's actions have been consistent. He doesn't really respect black people. It's OK if they're making money.

JAMES LEBRON, MIAMI HEAT: There's no room for that in our game. MALVEAUX: On the court Sunday the L.A. Clippers turned their red jerseys inside out in protest. As word of the racist rant spread, it seemed everyone had something to say, from President Obama half a world away.

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.

MALVEAUX: To celebrities on social media.

SNOOP DOGG, RAPPER: You racist piece of --

MALVEAUX: Sports Web site Deadspin released more of the ugly conversation.

STIVIANO: Do you know that you have a whole team that's black that plays for you?

STERLING: Just -- do I know? I support them and give them food and clothes and cars and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else gives it to them?


MALVEAUX: So today the NAACP which was to present Sterling with a Lifetime Achievement Award in two weeks canceled that honor. The president of the Los Angeles chapter Leon Jenkins said there is a personal economic and social price that Mr. Sterling must pay for his attempt to turn back the clock on race relations.

And of course, the question is what kind of personal economic and social price would Sterling pay in the first place? We were talking about some of those sponsorships that are disappearing. We are talking about at least half a dozen now additional ones including Red Bull, the automaker Kia, Amtrak. But whether or not this really impacts a wealthy man like Sterling, it's really questionable.

BLITZER: He's issued a statement, Sterling, through the Clippers, right?

MALVEAUX: Yes. He has. He's issued a statement. The team saying, here, he says that Mr. Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings. It is the antithesis of who he is and what he believes and how he has lived his life. He goes on to apologize for anybody who he offended including Magic Johnson. A lot of people just believe it is not really accurate, that he's just really covering himself.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Suzanne Malveaux.

Let's get some more now. Retired NBA player Kenny Smith is joining us. He's an analyst for the NBA on TNT, our sister network.

Kenny, thanks very much for coming in. So what should the NBA do? What can the NBA do?

KENNY SMITH, TNT: Well, I think the first thing is, you know, racism is really a refuge for ignorance and we can't allow to have that with inside any business. Forget the NBA. From startup business to the NBA. I think you can't have that inside of the work environment because it affects so many people and so many levels and Donald Sterling has made a lot of money in the last years. Not just in the NBA but on the backs of a lot of Californians that he wasn't practicing the correct moral codes to make that happen.

BLITZER: So what do you think the NBA should do about this?

SMITH: Well, I think the first thing is obviously the investigation, which they're doing now, to make sure that everything is accurate in that tape. Because -- and this is such a -- this is not a sports issue. It's a mankind issue. And it's a social issue. And it's important that those statements are correct.

The second part of that, if they are correct, then to move swiftly because we do have labor laws within inside the NBA that the players and owners have to abide by and go by. And you can't, even though if you're the owner of a team, you can't just do what you want with your team. There are labor laws in the United States. There's labor laws within inside the NBA that you have to comply to.

And a lot of people saying well, he's the owner of a team, but actually, you know, players over 50 percent of every team that they're on. They just can't play for 30 years like he has and be a participant. But the player through the collective bargaining agreement have over 50 percent -- own 50 percent of the Clippers anyway because the salaries that are made through the basketball revenue that comes in goes to the players.

BLITZER: You know, I want to bring Suzanne back in for a moment.

Suzanne, you know that he bought the Clippers when they were in San Diego 30-plus years ago for a few million dollars. If he sells the team now, in Los Angeles, he potentially could walk away with a billion dollars for that team. That's something that folks are thinking about right now.

MALVEAUX: Yes, people are thinking about that. And one of the things that the NAACP, you know, kind of egg on their face today, some embarrassment out of Los Angeles, when you had the chapter president saying that this was a guy who's owned this team for 30 years. There are a lot of things that he felt he was doing to contribute to the community. Whether it was tickets for the kids to see the games, whether it was charities for the NAACP.

They're giving that money back. So there's a lot of people who feel like this guy was in some way invested in the community but at the same time he's going to come away with a lot of money either way.

BLITZER: And Kenny, how is this going to affect the Clippers when they play these games in playoffs? SMITH: Well, I think it affects them mentally for sure as a player. You know, you're playing for an organization that you thought was different. But I think it's a teaching tool not only for the players but society in general that, you know, and looking at the richness of money doesn't make you rich. So regardless if he makes $1 billion or -- or anything else, he doesn't -- he doesn't have the riches and the finances of everything else in his life.

And that's what the real teaching tool is. What is richness? What is wealth? And lastly, it's about inclusion, because, you know, when you include I think that that's when you see the faults in yourself.

BLITZER: Certainly.

SMITH: And you can change those things as well. So this is a great teaching tool not only for the Clippers' players, but society in general on what real wealth is and what real richness is and how to combat all of those things together.

BLITZER: All right. Kenny Smith, Suzanne Malveaux, we'll have more on the story coming up. And an awful story it is.

Take a quick break. When we come back, the breaking news. Tornadoes ripping through the south right now.