Scenes from a tornado disaster zone: 'It just gets worse and worse'
April 29th, 2011
10:42 PM ET

Scenes from a tornado disaster zone: 'It just gets worse and worse'

As a photographer capturing disaster scenes, CNN's Aaron Brodie says he looks for evidence of what used to exist among the devastated landscape. He struggled to find those details as he toured the mangled ruins of Alberta, Alabama, with CNN's Wayne Drash after a tornado tore through the Tuscaloosa neighborhood Wednesday. Here's his description of the scene:

We showed up in town at a CVS drugstore in Tuscaloosa as workers were putting boards up on the windows. It was pretty banged up: Windows were blown out, cosmetics and drugs were on the floor. Four college students came up, put bottled water into shopping carts and said they were going to a neighborhood called Alberta. It seems really bad over there. Nobody’s paying attention, they said. People are just walking around in a daze with their belongings in a bag.

Ground Zero in Alberta: Horror and hope, tears and prayers

They drove us through these back roads to get to Alberta. When we got there the road was blocked off and the neighborhood officially evacuated because of natural gas leaks. We sneaked in on a back road and found there were still some people there. We wandered street by street looking for what we had been told was a newly constructed elementary school that had been destroyed.

The houses were small, old, wood-framed. The residents are on the lower economic rung and many are elderly. It seems to be the kind of neighborhood people call home their entire lives.

As we went down each street, the devastation got worse and worse and worse. We'd look down one street and see numerous trees lying across the road, cars in trees, houses moved off foundations. We'd look down another street and see no trees or homes at all, just endless piles of debris.

Everywhere you go there's destruction. Just when you think, OK, I'm not going to see something worse, you see something worse.


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Filed under: Alabama • Tornadoes • Weather
Appeals court ruling restores NFL lockout
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has become the public face of the league's dispute with the player's association.
April 29th, 2011
07:47 PM ET

Appeals court ruling restores NFL lockout

National Football League players have again been locked out of training facilities, because of an appeals court ruling. Meanwhile, negotiations continue over a new collective bargaining agreement between league owners and the NFL Player's Association.

A temporary stay has been granted of a lower court order that had ruled NFL owners could not lock out the players, said Michael Gans, the clerk with the 8th Circuit appeals court.

"We are back to a lockout," Gans said.

The temporary ruling allows the NFL to again suspend football operations as they seek to revise the current system.

A lockout was imposed after talks between the players and owners broke down last month and the players disbanded their union. In response, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and seven others filed a lawsuit on behalf of other current and eligible NFL players against the league to halt the lockout, which could affect the start of the 2011-12 season scheduled for September 8.

U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson ruled in favor of the players on Monday, issuing an injunction that ordered the league's owners to lift their lockout. The NFL appealed the ruling on the grounds that federal law prohibits injunctions in labor disputes.

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Filed under: Pro football
Overheard on Wedding bells and death knells
April 29th, 2011
04:38 PM ET

Overheard on Wedding bells and death knells

Exchange of the Day:
"The only normal looking person in this whole drama is the bride; the rest of them look like Martians or characters from a science fiction movie."–poulose

"You have to think of it like 'Star Wars' without the light sabers."–politauk

William and Catherine marry in royal wedding at Westminster Abbey

Two events shared center stage today: Prince William and Catherine’s wedding in London and the aftermath of a string of tornadoes that killed nearly 300 across the American Southeast. Some readers argued over whether the coverage was balanced or appropriate, while others shared their feelings and experiences about the separate events.

alexjones999 said, “How wonderful. All of the problems in the world but the world is focused on this trivial nonsense.” bilbo0s said, “300 fellow Americans dead in Alabama. Countless lives of fellow Americans blown away in Alabama. What makes the front page? Will and Kate are getting married!!! That explains a lot about America.”

LaserMan72 said, “Which should have more priority? Over 300 people died in Storm (In USA) or Royal Wedding (Not even in USA). Give me a break.”

But mr60233 argued that “this is an international event. Look at a map. Do you see those other pieces of land? They are called countries, and believe it or not, people that are not American live in them. I am sorry 300 people died. However, tornadoes happen all the time in the USA, and people die every day. This kind of event (the wedding) happens once every 30 years or so.”

barbie1311 said, "There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a few moments out of one's life to get lost in a fairy tale. It does not take away anything from the tragedies of the world. It's all about balance."

chitown27 said, "I'm in London right now, went to Westminster this morning and it was unbelievable. Most Americans have no sense of history whatsoever, which is why the trolls keep complaining on here. It was awesome watching the procession, the history and the pomp."

Savannah416 said, "With roots in India, I am the last one to argue against comments against British colonization; however, given the state of the world today, I'm also able to set aside negative thoughts for a morning and relish the beauty of a wedding of two people who have been in love for quite awhile."

GuestColin said, “What a bunch of cranky people the lot of you are! I've bought a ring, planned it out and will be getting engaged this summer after a 3-year courtship. Best to Wills and Kate. The rest of you need to go take a nap!”

TreeTop said, “Beautiful dress. Happy couple. Awesome news!” Mjollnir said, “This seems as good a reason as any to have some gourmet food and a toast tonight. We need more reasons to celebrate. There are still good things in this world.” Ealdwulf said, “They do certainly seem to be in love.”


April 29th, 2011
02:49 PM ET

U.N. to feed North Koreans after tough winter

The United Nations World Food Program and UNICEF announced Friday plans to launch emergency operations in North Korea to feed an estimated 3.5 million people in desperate need after crop losses and a harsh winter.

Women and children will be the focus of the one-year WFP operation, which is expected to cost just over $200 million, the WFP said.

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Filed under: North Korea • World
Recipe for a disaster: How this week's tornadoes formed
In Alabama, the hardest-hit state, the storms destroyed hundreds of businesses and homes, such as this one in Tuscaloosa.
April 29th, 2011
01:54 PM ET

Recipe for a disaster: How this week's tornadoes formed

A wave of storms swept through the South this week, laden with tornadoes that killed at least 300 people and left a multistate trail of destruction.

As authorities continue to assess the damage, recover bodies and restore power to thousands of homes and businesses in the storm zone, weather experts have many questions about the confluence of factors that formed such a violent weather system.

Did a perfect storm of sociological, meteorological and geographical events combine to create the second-deadliest tornado outbreak in the nation's history since 1950? The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research's Bob Henson, who recently wrote about the recipe for the storms, said it seems that way, but perfection is relative.

"You never know what’s perfect, because there may be another storm that’s even more perfect. Many say the 1974 super outbreak was the ultimate event," he said.

In 1974, a super outbreak of tornadoes churned through 13 states, killing hundreds of people.

One thing is certain: Way before Wednesday's storms came, forecasters saw the ingredients for trouble in the skies.

Weather forecasters had "very, very strong signals actually about five days out indicating a significant weather outbreak," Greg Carbin, warning coordination meteorologist at NOAA's Storm Prediction Center, told CNN on Friday.

But "saying a significant weather outbreak is coming is quite different from saying a massive tornado will move through Tuscaloosa at 5 p.m.," Carbin said. "So knowing the big picture is pretty good, but you don’t know the specifics; you only know really after the thunderstorm begins to form."

Around midday Wednesday in Mississippi, funnel cloud reports began.

“Tornadoes typically form from what are called super-celled storms,” Greg McFarquhar, a professor in the Atmospheric Sciences Department at the University of Illinois, told CNN on Friday. “You need a number of different ingredients. One is warm, humid air toward the surface. You need some sort of trigger that will start that air rising, that is associated with a cold front, and then a third ingredient is instability in the atmosphere,” he said.

“When a parcel of air starts to rise, if it’s warmer than the surrounding air, it’s going to be less dense than the surrounding air, and it will continue to rise,”  McFarquhar said.

Throughout the day Wednesday, the National Weather Service issued tornado watches - a "particularly dangerous situation" - for parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia.

Other agencies were issuing advisories as well. NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, issued its highest threat warning - “high risk” - for parts of the South. Shortly after, the prediction center issued red-colored headlines on its advisories, noting the likelihood of “destructive tornadoes … large hail up to 4 inches in diameter … and dangerous lightning.”

Another crucial ingredient was wind shear: volatility in wind speed and direction.

"Storms happen all the time," Carbin said, "but for those storms to last, you need wind shear.  If not, it will actually self-destruct. Wind shear will allow the storm to form a very efficient chimney, so to speak," he said.

On top of it all was a fast-moving storm system that raked parts of six states.

"It first showed up in Mississippi," Carbin said, "and at the same time, it wasn’t just one storm, it was five, 10, 15 erupting one after another in a 30-minute span. We know that. What we don't know is how to provide a specific pinpoint forecast of a violent tornado. That's still out of reach."

Armed with data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service, meteorologists in the affected regions went live with coverage of the storms’ path. But there was a major problem in getting the word out.

High winds associated with the storm had already caused power outages in several areas of the tornado zone as tree limbs snapped and power lines fell. Henson said he heard anecdotally that some NOAA weather radio transmitters were down as well, adding to the confusion.

Among the series of storms was at least one, in Smithville, Mississippi, that was an EF5. The National Weather Service in Memphis, Tennessee, said Friday the twister was Mississippi's first EF5 in more than 40 years.

An EF twister generates winds of more than 200 mph, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Soon afterward, witnesses reported tornado touchdowns in parts of Alabama.

In Alabama, where most of the damage was done, media and residents are calling another twister, captured on video, simply a "monster."

But how could so many people perish in an event that was forecast?

"Sometimes, we assume that getting the warnings issued is the only task that needs to be done, " Henson said. "But we're seeing that even when the warnings are out, we can still have many people killed."

He said the death toll may speak more to how people live today. "You can have perfect warnings, but if people don’t act on them … and when you have an event this big, you’re going to have some casualties. The open question is: Did there have to be 300?”

"I am concerned that there are a lot of places where safe shelter is just not a priority," Henson said.

Carbin said storms need to be studied more, particularly when many factors are involved.

"Once a storm becomes part of an environment, does it enhance wind conditions or deteriorate them?" he said. "We still don’t understand all of those interactions yet."

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Filed under: Alabama • U.S. • Weather
Gotta Watch: The big day!
April 29th, 2011
12:11 PM ET

Gotta Watch: The big day!

Months of planning, media hype and plenty of speculation about the dress are over. Prince William and Catherine Middleton tied the knot at a beautiful ceremony in Westminster Abbey. If you didn't get a chance to watch the wedding, here's your front row seat to some of our favorite moments.

William's first glimpse of Kate - It's arguably the most exciting part of the wedding, where the groom sees his bride for the first time on their big day.  Just take a look at Prince William's face when Catherine approaches. He looks so in love.


Court lifts ban on federal funding for stem cell research
A federal court has lifted a ban on federal funding for stem cell research.
April 29th, 2011
11:20 AM ET

Court lifts ban on federal funding for stem cell research

A federal court has given the Obama administration the go-ahead to continue embryonic stem cell research.

The controversial 2-1 decision Friday is a victory for supporters of federally funded testing for a range of diseases and illnesses.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia lifted an injunction imposed last year by a federal judge, who said all embryonic stem cell research at the National Institutes of Health amounted to destruction of embryos, in violation of congressional spending laws.

The case is Sherley v. Sebelius (10-5287).

See CNN's full coverage of the court's stem cell research decision
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Filed under: Science • Stem cell research
Activists send balloons, dollar bills over North Korea
Balloons filled with money, radios, DVDs and anti-North Korea propaganda are launched from South Korea on Friday.
April 29th, 2011
10:32 AM ET

Activists send balloons, dollar bills over North Korea

Activists from South Korea on Friday launched balloons carrying leaflets, radios, DVDs and a thousand U.S. dollar bills into North Korea.

About 50 activists, mostly defectors from the North, launched 10 of the balloons from Imjingak, north of Seoul, the South's Yonhap news agency reported.

It was the first launch of the propaganda balloons since the North last week threatened to respond with artillery fire against the launch location, according to the Yonhap report.

The group last sent balloons over North Korea on April 15, the birthday of the North's late leader, Kim Il-sung, Yonhap reported. Those leaflets highlighted democracy movements in the Middle East and North Africa, a message designed to inspire a similar movement in North Korea

Friday's propaganda launch comes a day after President Carter returned from a visit to North Korea with word that its leader, Kim Jong Il, would hold a summit with his South Korean counterpart at any time.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak is declining any official contact with the North until Pyonyang accepts responsibility for the sinking of the warship Cheonan in March 2010, which left 46 sailors dead, and the November shelling of a South Korean island in which two troops and two civilians died.

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Friday's intriguing people
Lara Logan is scheduled to discuss her sexual assault in Cairo, Egypt, on "60 Minutes" on Sunday.
April 29th, 2011
10:30 AM ET

Friday's intriguing people

Lara Logan

The CBS reporter spoke to The New York Times about her assault during protests in Cairo, Egypt. Logan told the paper she was in Tahrir Square on February 11, working on a story for “60 Minutes,” when she was snatched from her producer and bodyguard by a group of men. “For an extended period time, they raped me with their hands,” she said. She estimates the attack involved 200 to 300 men. Logan, who returned to work this week, will speak about her experience on “60 Minutes” on Sunday.


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Filed under: Celebrity • Crime • Egypt • Showbiz • World
Termites behind train wreck that killed 5
Four cars of a train were derailed when a one-ton branch struck it on Taiwan's Alishan Forest Railway this week.
April 29th, 2011
07:14 AM ET

Termites behind train wreck that killed 5

Termites are responsible for a train crash in Taiwan that killed five Chinese tourists and injured more than 100 others, government officials said in a report on the state-run Taiwan Today website.

The accident happened Wednesday, when a 40-foot-long (12.5 meter) branch weighing one ton fell from a 90-foot-tall Mori oak tree less than 10 yards from the track of the narrow-gauge Alishan Forest Railway, striking a train and derailing four cars, according to the report.

Investigators dispatched by the Forestry Bureau of the Council of Agriculture determined that termites had eaten away the interior of the large branch, and with further stress on the tree from recent dry weather, it broke and fell on the train, the report said.

"The heavy branch fell because it was decayed inside," said one of the investigators, Wang Ya-nan, a professor at National Taiwan University, according to a report on the Focus Taiwan website.

“This natural phenomenon could not have been predicted or prevented,” the investigators said, according to Taiwan Today.

Service on the popular scenic mountain railway has been suspended for a week, Focus Taiwan said.

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Filed under: Taiwan • Travel • World
Tornado survivors' stories: 'It looks like an atomic bomb went off'
Some of the worst damage from Wednesday's tornadoes was in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
April 29th, 2011
12:56 AM ET

Tornado survivors' stories: 'It looks like an atomic bomb went off'

[Updated at 3:16 a.m. ET] More than 300 people have been killed by the wave of violent weather that has swept across the South the past two days.

Survivors told of entire neighborhoods reduced to rubble and the terror of tornadoes ripping through their homes and businesses.

Here are the voices of some survivors:

Employees huddled in a windowless break room at a CVS drug store in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, as a tornado approached and a deafening roar filled the air, store manager Michael Zutell said.

A mother cradling an infant sprinted inside just before the twister hit.

"Glass is breaking. The woman with the baby is screaming. Part of the drop ceiling fell and boxes fly in," he said.

No one inside the store was injured, Zutell said. "It's mind-boggling to think you walked away."

Shortly before a massive tornado tore through her Tuscaloosa neighborhood on Wednesday, Lucy Arnold Sykes decided the weather was ominous enough to shelter her 3-year-old and 6-year-old children in a bathtub.

"I ran in with the kids and kind of joked (to my husband), 'Don't make fun of me for putting the kids in the bathtub, but I think this is serious,' " she told CNN's "The Situation Room" on Thursday. "He went out for one last look, and … he came back in with kind of a strange look on his face, and he said, 'It's right outside the door.' "

Have the tornadoes affected you? Share your stories, photos and video

The edge of the tornado passed across the street, but the wind tore apart a corner of the house, sent a tree crashing onto the roof, broke nearly all the windows and flipped her vehicle from the curb onto her front lawn.

The family is OK and stayed with friends on Wednesday night.

"(The kids) want to know when they’re going to go back home. I don't think that will be anytime soon. We're going to be looking for a new house," she said.


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Filed under: Alabama • Georgia • Mississippi • Tennessee • Tornadoes • Weather