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Baltimore Violence; China's Anger; Interview With California Congressman Ed Royce; Protests, Arrests After Cleveland Officer Acquitted; China Retaliating Against U.S. Spy Flight; 13 Confirmed Dead in Flood Disaster. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired May 26, 2015 - 18:00   ET


[18:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And skepticism among the Pentagon brass.

China's anger. A confrontation with the United States is escalating after a secret mission by an American spy plane. What will the Chinese military do next after warning the U.S. to back off?

And deadliest month. After riots in the streets, there is a steady surge in violent crime in Baltimore. I will ask the NAACP chairman about the impact of the Freddie Gray case. He is standing by live in Baltimore tonight.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: The breaking news, a flooding catastrophe that has turned big city streets into rivers, swallowing up cars and people, and ripping homes from their foundations. At least nine people are dead in Texas and Oklahoma.

And after a desperate day of search-and-rescue operations, at least a dozen are missing tonight. A state of emergency is affecting Houston, Houston. That's America's fourth largest city. And officials are warning this flooding disaster could last for weeks, with more severe thunderstorms in the forecast for the flood zone and for the wide area of the United States from the Gulf Coast up to the Great Lakes.

Our correspondents and analysts, they're all standing by. They're covering all the news breaking right now.

First, let's go to our meteorologist Jennifer Gray. She is in the flood zone. She is near the Texas capital of Austin.

Jennifer, what's the latest there?


Wolf, all of this began around the Wimberley area, where we are, and points to the northwest, where this river behind me, the Blanco River, rose very, very quickly after torrential rains. It rose at least 44 feet before the flood gauge broke. And it swept homes right off of their foundations.


GRAY (voice-over): Tonight, devastating images of destruction and heartbreaking stories of those lost and still missing after relentless severe weather cripples Texas and Oklahoma, hundreds of homes washed away in Hays County, Texas, in floodwaters that have left some of America's largest cities like Houston underwater.

ANNISE PARKER (D), MAYOR OF HOUSTON, TEXAS: The areas of Houston that flood in those situations, underpasses, low-lying areas were affected. And a lot of folks drove their cars into high water and had to abandon those vehicles.

GRAY: President Obama spoke to Texas Governor Greg Abbott Tuesday, offering the support of the federal government.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and the communities who have been affected by some of these devastating, record-breaking floods.

GRAY: Several communities dealing with loss remembering victims taken by the rushing waters, like homecoming queen and student council president Alyssa Ramirez, who was killed on her way home from prom, the car she was driving swept away by floodwaters.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She did the right things. She called 911. She called her father. But it was just too much and too quick.

GRAY: Laura McComb and her two young children still missing after the cabin where they were staying literally split in half, her father-in- law telling CNN that rescue efforts have been challenging.

JOE MCCOMB, FATHER OF POTENTIAL VICTIM: It's a major undertaking. And the volume of water that came down as a result of the flood, I mean, it just covered hundreds of thousands of acres, and seems to be an impossible task, but there are people that are dedicated to their mission. We remain eternally optimistic.

GRAY: McComb's husband, Jonathan, was also in that cabin. He was rescued, but not before suffering a collapsed lung and broken sternum. With more rain on the way at the end of the week, the Texas governor worries that more lives could be lost.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: It's essential to understand that in so many of the rivers across the state of Texas, we are going to continue to have rising waters. If there are rising waters, if your local elected officials tell you to evacuate, it is essential that you heed those warnings. Do not drive into rising water.


GRAY: And that statement is so true. Do not rise in -- do not drive in those rising waters. It's hard to believe, less than two days ago, the water was above my head. It has gone down quite a bit. But with more rain in the forecast,

Wolf, the end of the week and the weekend, the fear is more flash flooding across all of Central Texas and Southeast Texas as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jennifer, stand by. I know you're right outside Austin, Texas.

I want to go to Houston right now, where nearly a foot of rain fell over a 24-hour period.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is on the scene for us there. What is it like there, Ed?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what you see behind me is normally supposed to be a quiet little bayou that quietly winds along the edge of downtown Houston.

This is what it looks like this afternoon, a fast-moving bayou as the floodwaters continue to recede and race out, still a very dangerous situation in many parts of the city. And that is what caused a lot of the flooding throughout this area.


Throughout the city of Houston, you see a system of bayous that kind of cut and wind their ways through the city. This is what flooded in many parts, and quickly rose up. Where we're standing probably had another 15 feet or so of water. You can see it. It's quickly receding. But the force of it is still very strong.

Here, where we're standing here this afternoon, you can see just on this lamppost on -- this is one of the trails that you can take along this. You can see just how high the water was, was rushing by here just several hours ago in the early morning hours.

The difficult news here, Wolf, is that city officials say three people were killed, three people still believed to be missing. Search-and- rescue operations are still going through, trying to get to those areas where floodwaters haven't totally receded from the neighborhoods. So they're doing visual inspections on those situations, trying to get a handle on all of the people that are missing.

But it was a scene of -- described by one emergency official here in Houston as a madhouse today, as about 1,000 cars were stranded on roadways throughout the cities, as people -- throughout the city -- as people were just trying to get out of the way of these walls of water that were spilling out of the bayou, so a very chaotic situation in the overnight hours and into this morning, as torrential rain downpours fell once again.

And, as we have heard mentioned, these rains could continue. The good news is here, throughout the rest of this day, we haven't seen any more rain, which has given these bayous a chance to recede, at least get as much water out of the way as possible, but in the coming days, more rain, more flooding still very much a concern -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ed, I want you to stand by as well, the forecast not necessarily all that good in the days ahead.


BLITZER: There is another story breaking tonight involving Iraqi troops. They're facing a raging sandstorm and ISIS fighters, as they launch a major new offensive to try to roll back critical gains by the ISIS terrorists.

The operation comes after the defense secretary of the United States, Ashton Carter, blamed Iraqi forces for losing the city of Ramadi to ISIS, telling CNN in an exclusive interview with our own Barbara Starr that they lack the will to fight.

Let's go to Barbara right now. She has got more on what is going on.

What is the latest, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, today, the White House cautiously endorsed the secretary's assessment. And I have to tell you, we have now learned that Carter got a number of intelligence briefings during the week bringing him up to date with great specifics about what was going on, on the ground in Ramadi as the city fell to ISIS.

So now, looking ahead, Iraqi forces on the move, but a lot of caution about what they may be able to do.


STARR (voice-over): As sandstorms rolled in, Iraq said it's launched a major military operation to take back Ramadi.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We were pleased to see today that the Iraqi government announced the beginning of the mission to retake Ramadi and to drive ISIL out of Anbar province. I think that is a clear indication of the will of the Iraqi security forces to fight.

STARR: Far different from Defense Secretary Ash Carter when he spoke to CNN.

ASHTON CARTER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: It is very concerning that they showed that failure of a will to fight.

STARR: After watching the chaotic final moments before Ramadi fell, top Pentagon officials remain skeptical. U.S. military officials say, so far, the Iraqi units are just conducting probing attacks against ISIS.


ISIS, for its part, is improving its battlefield tactics, calling in fighters from Syria, using snipers and suicide bombs in new ways, digging tunnels to get into Ramadi and blow up Iraqi fortifications.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: They're scouting the Iraqi security forces and gaining intelligence from reconnaissance. They're understanding the capability of the Iraqi security forces, to include coalition airpower. And they are adjusting their tactics to counter that.

STARR: Moving in small groups, making it harder for U.S. warplanes to find them, and staying off social media.

DANIEL MILTON, WEST POINT COMBATING TERRORISM CENTER: They have seen that there can be operational consequences to essentially live- tweeting or live-posting regarding their operations.

STARR: If the Iraqis are going to win, they will need help. These Shia militias, some under Iranian control, already beginning to move into position, but Carter hinting it is the Sunni tribes of Anbar that the Pentagon is quietly focusing on, looking for ways to provide them with more weapons.

CARTER: They're the ones who have to get in the fight and win the fight.


STARR: So, now, what the Pentagon is really looking at is, how can it recruit more Sunni tribal leaders to the fight against ISIS? How can it equip them with new weapons? How can it train them and keep this all under the control of the government in Baghdad, which so far is not anxious to have the Sunnis in the fight at all, Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thank you. Good reporting, by the way. Appreciate it very much.

Let's get some more now with the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Republican Congressman Ed Royce of California, who is joining us.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

You know Ash Carter, the secretary of defense. He is a very serious guy with a lot of experience, Barbara just reporting he had been well briefed by the U.S. intelligence community. He told her that the Iraqi military in Ramadi showed no will to fight. Is he right?

REP. ED ROYCE (R-CA), HOUSE FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Well, let's say that about the officer corps. Certainly, the officer corps gave the order to retreat, the officers there on the ground. And this has been an ongoing problem.

We should differentiate, though, because some of those soldiers held their position. There were some where you saw in the print media how they had had family members killed by ISIS, and they still held their positions there on the line, until finally the order to retreat was given.

One of the questions is, which officer in the Iraqi military gave that order to retreat, right?

BLITZER: Because the problem was that they were several thousand Iraqi military troops, a few hundred ISIS terrorists there, and the terrorists convinced the Iraqi military to abandon Ramadi, abandon their equipment, and run away.

ROYCE: And you also saw that some of the Sunni tribesmen held their positions also. And it's their province, after all.

They were not happy about that order. So, this is part of the problem that Baghdad is experiencing here. Because Baghdad is perceived as being so close to Iran, the Iranian influence has been such that the weapons have not gone to the Sunni tribes. The weapons have not gone to the Kurds. In the National Defense Authorization Act, in the legislation we just passed, we addressed that issue, Wolf, by mandating that some of the aid that we put through Baghdad go directly to the Kurdish forces and to the Sunni tribes that are working there, because we know that the Shia-led government at this point has not only provided woefully inadequate officers, but have not provided the resources, the equipment necessary for the tribesmen.

BLITZER: And there is a lot of fear it's quickly becoming potentially -- hope it doesn't -- a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Iranian government in Tehran.

Speaking of Iran, I want you to stand by, Mr. Chairman. We have a lot more to discuss, including a trial that has now begun for an American journalist being held by the Iranians.

Much more right after this.



BLITZER: We're back with the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Ed Royce of California.

We're talking about the battle against ISIS, a new military offensive by the Iraqi military aimed at trying to take back the city of Ramadi.

Mr. Chairman, is ISIS getting the -- winning on the battlefield right now?

ROYCE: Well, right now, ISIS controls, after Palmyra, after that battle, half of Syria, and it's 70 miles from Baghdad.

Now, we have -- at least, it won the last two battles, one in Syria and one in Western Iraq. The question now is, you know, will this prompt a counterattack that is going to show success on the part of the Iraqi units? If that's going to happen, they have got to get the Sunni tribes involved in a major way in that. And they're going to have to arm those tribes.

I have met with the leadership of the Sunni tribes when they came to Washington. They want to take back that province, but they say they need the equipment and support from Baghdad to do it.

BLITZER: And they see -- what they see is this new operation to try to retake Ramadi right in the Sunni-controlled area, the Sunni- dominated area of Anbar province. And the Shiite militias backed by Iran, they announce this mobilization, if you will, and they give it a code name that is a Shiite code name, which can only anger the Sunni majority in Anbar, right?


ROYCE: And this is the problem, because it creates more backlash, as the Sunni tribes will mention.

That is why arming the Kurds and arming the allied Sunni tribes in Anbar, as we have done in the past, that are fighting ISIS is the way to go, rather than bringing Shia militia sometimes led by Iranian officers all the way in to Western Iraq. This is giving Iran too much reach into the region. And it is complicating the effort to defeat ISIS, frankly.

BLITZER: Could -- you say the ISIS forces are only about 70 miles outside of Baghdad. We know they have taken control and had control for a year now of the second largest city in Iraq, Mosul. Now they have Ramadi. Is Baghdad in danger?

ROYCE: No, Baghdad is not in danger.

But what is in danger is one of the major oil refineries, the largest in Iraq. And, in this situation, ISIS is continuing to try to advance on that field. So, it would be very important right now if the Iraqi military can do a counterattack and actually succeed in taking -- taking back Ramadi and pushing back along the refinery.

BLITZER: Congressman, I want you to stand by, because we're getting new information about an American journalist jailed for nearly a year in Iran, charged with spying. His trial began today in Tehran.

I want to bring in our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott. She's working this very disturbing story for us.

What are you learning?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the judge read the four-count indictment and then adjourned after only two hours, the next court date unknown. In fact, nobody knows anything else about the trial because it is being conducted in secret.


LABOTT (voice-over): Behind closed doors in Iran, American Jason Rezaian went on trial after 10 months in Iran's infamous Evin prison, his wife and mother shut out of the courtroom.

ALI REZAIAN, BROTHER OF JASON REZAIAN: They were not able to go into the trial. They sat there and basically waited all day. LABOTT: Iran says the "Washington Post" reporter is a spy who passed

information to -- quote -- "hostile governments." The judge hearing the case so notorious for his harsh sentences, including the death penalty, he is sanctioned by the European Union. Today, the U.S. called the entire case a sham.

JEFF RATHKE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: While we call for his trial to be open, we also maintain that he should never have been detained or put on trial in the first place.

LABOTT: Rezaian, a dual U.S.-Iranian national, focused his reporting on the culture and daily life of the Iranian people. He spoke with CNN's Anthony Bourdain last year, shortly before his arrest.


JASON REZAIAN, JOURNALIST DETAINED IN IRAN: Look, I'm at a point now after five years where I miss certain things about home. I miss my buddies. I miss burritos. But I love it. I love it, and I hate it, you know? But it's home.

LABOTT: His family and editor says Jason is a pawn as Iran seeks to close a nuclear deal with the United States and other world powers.

DOUGLAS JEHL, FOREIGN EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": The fact that it's proceeding in tandem, as it were, with the nuclear negotiations does suggest that, at least in the minds of some, there is an effort to use Jason as a negotiating tool.

LABOTT: Last month, Iran's foreign minister hinted at an internal power struggle.

MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Unfortunately, your friend and my friend Jason is accused of a very serious offense. And I hope that he is cleared in a court. It is unfortunate that some overzealous low-level operative tried to take advantage of him.

LABOTT: Addressing a crowd of thousands of journalists at the White House Correspondents Dinner last month, President Obama promised to spare no effort.

OBAMA: Jason's brother Ali is here tonight. And I have told him personally we will not rest until we bring him home to his family safe and sound.



LABOTT: But the Obama administration has made a point not to link Jason's case to the nuclear negotiations with Iran. Officials say doing so is more likely to scuttle the deal than secure his release, and only play into the hands of those responsible for his detention, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Elise, thanks very much. I want to go back to the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs

Committee, Ed Royce.

What do you think about this case? Should it be linked to this nuclear deal that seems to be in the works, the deadline being the end of June?

ROYCE: We should make it very clear to the Iranian government that if their intelligence community and their judicial system can't protect someone, a journalist like Jason -- and three other Americans, by the way, are being held there -- if their intent is to duplicate, replicate what they did in 1979 by taking Americans hostages, then what guarantee do we have that, when inspectors, international inspectors go in there, that they're not going to be taken captive?

This needs to end now. And that is an old pattern. But to have the possibility of a death sentence for a journalist, this is nothing new in Iran either.


We're going have Jason's brother testify in my committee next week and other family members representing the other three families that are held there. But can you imagine being held for 10 months in Evin prison, which is where some of the worst torturing has gone on, you know, against religious leaders, against students in Iran?

Our hearts go out here to the family members. And we hope we can secure his release.

BLITZER: Certainly hope so, indeed. We will cover your hearing in the coming days as well.

Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for joining us.

ROYCE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead: How are the Baltimore police responding to a dramatic increase in violent crime? We're monitoring the deadly situation in Baltimore right now, after six police officers were charged in the death of Freddie Gray.

And we're also following the fallout in Cleveland after protests against the acquittal of a police officer. Will a new agreement with the U.S. Justice Department change anything?


KEILAR: We have our law enforcement analysts standing by. But first some protesters were back on the streets of Cleveland, Ohio, today after a weekend of angry demonstrations. Dozens of arrests there.

[18:33:12] The tensions are rising after the acquittal of a police officer accused of shooting two unarmed African-Americans. Is the situation easing or will the city erupt? Our Brian Todd is following the story for us -- Brian. BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, tonight the Justice

Department and the FBI are reviewing evidence and testimony in this case, looking at options moving forward.

There are serious concerns tonight that after Ferguson, Baltimore, South Carolina and other high-profile cases of police violence, all over just the past nine months, that Cleveland is the next flash point.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is legally excused from liability for those crimes.

[18:35:05] TODD (voice-over): With those words a Cleveland judge acquits Police Officer Michael Brelo, touches off a round of protests where 71 people are arrested, and sparks concerns over what may happen next.

RON HOSKO, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: My concern is that there is a spike in violence. That there is a group that steals the discussion, and it bends into violence and not a civil discussion about effective and proper engagement between the police and the community.

TODD: Brelo was found not guilty in the deaths of Timothy Russell and Melissa Williams, two unarmed African-Americans. About a dozen police officers fired 137 shots into their vehicle in about eight seconds. Authorities said Brelo himself stood on the hood of the car and blasted 15 shots through the windshield. None of the other officers were even charged with manslaughter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The essential element of causation was not proved for both counts.

TODD: The judge said he acquitted Brelo because after a 22-mile car chase prompted by the couple speeding away from a traffic stop, Brelo and the other officers had reason to believe they were at risk, that even after all the shots, the police couldn't be sure the threat was over, and that it couldn't be proven Brelo's shots were the ones that killed Russell and Williams.

Cleveland can't exhale just yet. A decision will likely be made soon in the case of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. He was shot and killed by Cleveland police in November while holding a pellet gun. The investigation is almost finished in the Rice case.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was concerned about that.

TODD: And protest leaders are looking for accountability.

DERAY MCKESSON, FERGUSON PROTESTOR: Remember, the unrest is already there. America is already experiencing unrest because the police are killing us, and it is that simple.

TODD: The Justice Department had already found in a two-year probe that Cleveland police had used unnecessary and unreasonable force at a significant rate. Ron Hosko, whose group helped fund Officer Brelo's defense, acknowledges the Cleveland police are under enormous pressure going forward.

HOSKO: Without question each and every future case that comes from Cleveland, particularly where you have a difference in the race of the person who is encountered and the police, these situations can reasonably be expected to flare up again and bring more and more protests.


TODD: And the Cleveland police are still not out of the woods in that Brelo case. The Cuyahoga County prosecutor says he is still pursuing justice for Timothy Russell and Melissa Williams. He says five Cleveland police supervisors have been charged by dereliction of duty by a grand jury, that they'll be charged by his office for failing to control that dangerous car chase -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Brian, thanks so much.

I want to bring back our law enforcement analysts: Tom Fuentes and Cedric Alexander. And we also have former ATF agent Matthew Horace.

So most people look at this, Tom, and they say it was over 100 shots. And then you have Officer Brelo standing on the hood of the car. Why was he standing on the hood of the car shooting into the car?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, if that car was still posing a threat to the officers, which is what the testimony was in court, that they rammed a couple of squads during the chase, they led them on 100-plus-mile-an-hour chase for 23 miles. It then at the time that car turned down that small street, it was still trying to maneuver around.

So that's why the shots are being fired, to try to stop that car from continuing to be a threat to everyone. And the purpose for jumping on the hood of that car is that officers are trained not to shoot at a windshield. Safety glass, the shatterproof coatings on windshields make it very hard. So that if you fire at that angle, the bullet's going to ricochet off, like a billiard ball on a pool table.

The idea of getting up high is to shoot directly into the windshield at a 90-degree angle, and then the bullets will penetrate for sure and not ricochet.

KEILAR: Now in court Officer Brelo said he was worried that he was being shot at. He believed the couple was shooting at him. There had been a backfire on the car as the couple drove off. It was initially mistaken for gunfire. It turned out later there were no weapons in the car.

But he wasn't worried about the car moving. It seems like you wouldn't have been -- you wouldn't jump on a car that was moving all that much. Right? On the hood. Is this -- is this the way that it should have gone down in court, do you think? CEDRIC ALEXANDER, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I don't know if it's

the way it should have gone down, but it's the way that it did go down. And when situations get that intense, there are likely to be a number of things that could happen that could cause you to think a backfire of a car, another loud noise. You've got to think, the state of mind of the person that's pulling the trigger.

You know, in law enforcement, we use that Graham vs. Connor, the idea of objective reasonableness and how we exact physical force or deadly force. And in this case, you know, this is what the officer felt. How we feel about it really is inconsequential. The judge laid out in clear detail on Saturday how he viewed everything that happened during that day.

FUENTES: Just -- if I could interrupt, just because a gun wasn't found when this was concluded, don't forget this went on for 100-mile- an-hour chase through the city. There could have been shots fired, and they could have tossed the guns out the window. Just because at the time the chase is over, there's no firearms in that car, it doesn't mean that there weren't shots fired.

KEILAR: Later -- but later, they determined it was a backfire.

FUENTES: Well, they're guessing, because they're not finding the guns in the car, and you have civilian witnesses also corroborate the noise. It sounded like gunfire. You've you had a noise that sounded like gunfire as the car was driving down the streets. So that's not something the police made up.

Other witnesses confirm that there was the sound of gunfire. When they find no guns they think, well, it must have been a backfire.

KEILAR: Cedric, I want to ask you about Baltimore because over the weekend from the county numbers there, 28 shootings, seven deaths. What do you make of these numbers? These are so high.

ALEXANDER: Well, first of all, let me be clear about something. In terms of the work that's being here by -- being done by Commissioner Batts, his folks, is good work. I mean, Brianna, they're doing a lot of good work that is not being mentioned whatsoever.

Everything falls back on the police. They've got other problems there that is really not police issues. For an example, you've got a poor educational system. You have a great deal of poverty. You have broken families, broken homes. You've got a lot of social ills that could use a lot of social wraparound services to help that community move forward.

It is not the police department's fault, because you have the number of shootings that are in there. They are doing all that they can, and they have done some great things there in Baltimore, from police explore programs, getting rid of bad cops, bringing in world-class trainers for their police department.

But you've got to remember, the bigger social issues in a lot of these communities is not at the fault of the police. We need to hold our police accountable. That is very true. But there are some good things that are going on here with that leadership and that community. If I could just have one -- another second just to talk about Cleveland.

KEILAR: You have about -- you have about ten seconds. That's it.

ALEXANDER: All right. All right. Thank you. Without all of the speculation and suppositions of that case, the problem that Cleveland is having is that they have had a past history and practice of being abusive in that community...

KEILAR: That's right.

ALEXANDER: ... regardless of what happened, right or wrong, regardless of what had happened, right or wrong. The judge has made a decision, we're going to respect that. But they've got a history of problems which they're going to have to deal with.

KEILAR: Very, very good point. And we'll leave that as the final word. Cedric, thank you so much.

ALEXANDER: Thank you.

KEILAR: Tom, Matthew, thanks to both of you.

Just ahead, a new flash flood emergency. This was just issued. We're going to tell who is at risk from the severe weather that's unfolding as we speak.


[18:46:18] BLITZER: We're following growing tension between the United States and China after an American spy plane undertook a bold mission with a CNN crew onboard. Now China is outraged and retaliating.

Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto. Jim, you were on that spy plane mission. You did an excellent report. But there are new developments.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question. Despite what you can call a show of U.S. force, today, you have China in effect doubling down, issuing its annual military white paper as it's called. China vowed to expand its military activities on the high seas, switching in its own words from just air defense to both offense and defense, and assailing what it called provocative actions by other countries, including the U.S.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): Days after a U.S. spy plane made its bold flight over contested islands with our CNN team onboard, the conflict between the U.S. and China now escalating.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was the first challenge we got today. SCIUTTO: China's foreign ministry has lodged a formal complaint with

Washington in response to the mission which was met with eight ominous warnings like this one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the Chinese navy. This is the Chinese navy. Please go away quickly.

SCIUTTO: China's foreign ministry spokesperson said, "We urge the U.S. to correct its error and stop all irresponsible words and deeds."

China's defense ministry took it a step further. In its annual white paper, vowing to expand military operations to the open seas, and accusing a certain country, read the United States, of meddling in the South China Sea.

COL. YANG YUJUN, CHINESE DEFENSE MINISTRY SPOKESMAN (through translator): Their purpose is to smear the Chinese military and dramatize regional tension. I'm not ruling it out that this is being done to find an excuse for a certain country to take actions in the future.

SCIUTTO: On Chinese social media, citizens echoed the government's combative tone. One writing, "China's aircraft should fly to Washington to pay a return visit." Another, "Eight warnings. Why not sending two missiles?"

U.S. officials are holding firm. Vice President Biden giving the commencement address at the U.S. Naval Academy said China's activity amounts to a direct challenge to U.S. principles.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're building airstrips, the placing of oil rigs, the imposition of unilateral bans on fishing in disputed territories. The declaration of air defense zones, the reclamation of land, which other countries are doing but not nearly on the massive scale the Chinese are doing.

SCIUTTO: With the two sides positions hardening, there are now hard questions as to how either side backs down to avoid real conflict.

JEFF BADER, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: They're not going to take the sand and dump it back this sea. What else they're going to do, what they're going to deploy, that's important. If it's a coast guard vessel coming by once in a while, that's one thing. If it's fighter jets that are landing there and conducting operations in the area, that's another thing.


SCIUTTO: So, what are the U.S. options now? We know the Pentagon is considering flying planes directly over the islands and sailing ships within 12 miles which is recognized as territorial waters. But U.S., Wolf, could also act to reassure allies in the region, for instance, by rotating forces into a country such as the Philippines.

But in just one measure of how serious the tension is now, we noticed this in an editorial today in the "Global Times". This is an English language mouthpiece, in effect, of the Chinese communist party. It said, quote, "A battle between China and the U.S. in the South China Sea is inevitable."

Now, it's a little bit of saber rattling going on there. But each day, the rhetoric keeps matching. It's hard to see how they ratchet it down.

BLITZER: Tensions escalating between the U.S. and China, between the U.S. and Russia. These are echoes of the Cold War, which we thought were history.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely, in very similar cases here, where you have a land grab -- well, a land grab in one place in Ukraine, and a sea grab in effect by China on the other side of the world.

[18:50:05] BLITZER: Yes, very disturbing. All right. Thanks very much.

Much more news coming up right after this.


BLITZER: Breaking news: Houston police just confirmed a fourth death in today's flooding. That raises the overall death toll in the U.S. to at least 13 with another dozen people missing. More in the story coming up.

Another deadly storm, Hurricane Katrina, is one of the many breaking stories CNN has covered in the first 35 years on the air. Tonight, I'm anchoring a special report looking back at the many breaking stories we have covered since day one, including Hurricane Katrina.

[18:55:03] Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey, powerful hurricane appears to be setting its sights on the central Gulf Coast.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This may be the easy side of the storm, but it does not feel easy here on the banks of the Mississippi River.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It's a very strange feeling covering a hurricane, particularly one that was this size.

I was in a Walmart earlier in the day, and people just come up to you in the Walmart and they're like, have you heard about my town?

The woman at the Walmart said you should go to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi because we haven't been able to get in touch with our relatives in Waveland and no one is reporting from there. When I got to Waveland, it was unlike anything I had seen before.

I want to just show you a few shots around me, just the complete devastation. I went out with this FEMA body recovery team. We went to the house of

a family, their last name was Bane. Once you stepped on their porch, you could smell them. Everything was ripped apart and things were on the floor. It was very chaotic and mud everywhere, and then they found them.

These four people, a man and wife and two children have died in this home.

They had drowned in their living room. And it was a husband and a wife and two of their kids, special needs kids. But there was really nothing they could do. They marked an x on the door and put the number four for the number of bodies on the door that were inside. And then they closed the door and left.


BLITZER: Anderson Cooper is joining us live.

Anderson, hard to believe it's almost 10 years since Katrina. What a horrible, horrible story.

Give us a little bit more of what it was like actually covering that devastating story.

COOPER: You know, I think it was one of those remarkable times when CNN is able to kind of utilize all its resources and get people to a scene. We had people all throughout the region. I was in Waveland for the first couple days, then ultimately, in New Orleans and able to spend an entire month there broadcasting every night. And to be in places where relief workers couldn't get to, or didn't have the supplies, in that case, it was a FEMA body recovery teams who are doing, you know, really important work, trying to locate those who had died, but they didn't have enough body bags and refrigerated trucks take care of those who had died. And so, they just to have to just leave them.

And I think for many of us, covering it for many of us watching around the world on television on CNN, it was hard to believe some of the images that we were seeing, not only in Waveland, but in New Orleans, outside the convention center and other places.

BLITZER: Yes, it's amazing when you think back. I know, right, Anderson, you have been with CNN now for, what, about 12 or 13 years. I have been with CNN for 25 years. It's been an incredible ride for both of us.

What other stories stand out in your memory as we reflect now on the first 35 years of CNN?

COOPER: You know, there's so many where we're able to get to a place very, very quickly. I think going back to the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, the first team on the ground in Port-au-Prince. We had a huge number of personnel there, and I really never have been more proud of CNN than with our coverage there. You know, I spent a month, I think on the ground there as well. I had been able to go back multiple times.

But to be there, you know, it was a great privilege to tell people's stories and to be able to bear witness to the suffering of others, to bear witness to what other people were going through, people who had been abandoned by their own government, who had no resources, no heavy earth moving equipment, but were digging through the rubble with their bare and bloodied hands to try to save strangers, save family members. It was an extraordinary thing to witness.

BLITZER: It certainly was. I remember it vividly. What was your favorite story looking back on these what, 13 years at CNN, if that you had the privilege to work on?

COOPER: You know, I don't think I could name just one. I think any time you find yourself on the breaking wave of history, anytime you find yourself on the front lines of a story, and you're invited into somebody's home, whether it's through the television or actually into somebody's home, and they tell you their story.

That, for me, is the greatest privilege of all. It's something I feel very blessed to be able to do. I think that's one of the things that CNN is able to do time and time again, is to get to the front lines and to bring home stories that others can't.

BLITZER: It's amazing when you think about it. We're all so blessed to have a front row seat to history, and we're grateful every single day.

Anderson, we'll check you out in an hour on "A.C.360". Thanks for joining us. Thanks for all your service to CNN as well.

COOPER: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: I wrote a piece, a personal piece about the First Gulf War on, if you have a chance, check it out. I think you'll enjoy it.

And remember, later tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, our special report, "Breaking News: 35 years of CNN". I think you'll want to watch it. If you can't watch it live, DVR it. You're a news junkie. You're going to want to see this one-hour special. Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. I love to hear from

you. Tweet me @wolfblitzer. Tweet the show, @CNNSitroom.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.