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Devastation in Oklahoma

Aired May 20, 2013 - 20:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.

The losses are great. The words to describe them seem so small. Right now, crews are digging through the remains of a school, Plaza Towers Elementary, in Moore, Oklahoma, south of Oklahoma City. Searching for children, searching for school staff who sheltered in a hallway.

Now, in a large part of this school, there are no hallways to speak of, there are no walls left, only rubble and rescuers still hoping to find survivors.

This is the tornado that did the damage. Massive. More than two miles wide, estimated winds at least 166 miles an hour, possibly much higher than that. It stayed on the ground minute after agonizing minute, leaving mile after mile of wreckage like this, hundreds and hundreds of homes and buildings believed to be destroyed.

A hospital damaged, evacuated. All from the worst of several storms today. There are at least 10 deaths that we know of at this hour in the town of Moore alone. We don't know if any were from that school. George Howell is on the scene. He joins us now.

George, explain where you are and what you are seeing.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, we're just across the street from that school. We have the best vantage point at this point, the closest we can get to it. And I want to show you what we see. You can see that this is right now a desperate search. People are out, they're trying to find their relatives, trying to find family members. You can see the school over there. You can see a few of the walls that are still left standing. And if we can pan over just a bit, you can also see there's still playground equipment there on the ground, but again, officials are getting a lot of offers to help.

People are wanting to come out, Anderson, to help out. But officials are telling us, they're telling everyone, you know, stay away from the school. They want them to stay clear of the school because, as you see with the aerial footage that we've seen, the search and rescue continues. These rescuers are doing their very best going through all of that debris, looking for survivors in that school.

I want to bring in now Laticia Velazquez. Laticia and I, we were talking earlier. You had someone that was in that school. LATICIA VELAZQUEZ, NIECE MISSING FROM SCHOOL: Yes. It's two nieces, one has been hospitalized. The other one is Nancy Rodriguez which she's still missing. I have no word on her yet.

HOWELL: Have you been talking to the officials? I know you were just coming back from the school.

VELAZQUEZ: Yes. They just said that I have to be patient and wait and hope for the best.

HOWELL: It's got to be agonizing to do right now. And what are they telling people as far as, you know, I know that a lot of people, relatives, family members, are trying to go up there. Are they telling people to go back? What are they saying?

VELAZQUEZ: Yes, they're just saying to step back because it's not safe. It's very bad out there. They're saying that if you had kids out in this school to go look for them, for the church out here on Southwest 19th or so, something like that. And they're not really giving us much details.

HOWELL: Laticia, you were around when all this happened.

VELAZQUEZ: Yes. It's scary. Scary. I mean, I have no words to describe it because it's horrible.

HOWELL: Thank you for taking time with us.

VELAZQUEZ: Thank you.

HOWELL: Anderson, I mean, there are a lot of people who are in the same situation right now, looking for family members, looking for people who were in that school. We do know that the police department, they're going to hold a news conference here in the next 30 minutes, I believe, to give us some sort of an update, some information as to where we are right now. But again, we do see lines of people, guys, if you need to pass us, you can.

But again, officials are turning people around who want to go in and help. They're telling everyone to stay clear of the school because they're doing their best to go through the mess that's over there to find survivors.

COOPER: And, George, at this point, obviously the focus is on search and rescue at this point. There are a lot of people kind of milling around. Is there a sense of order? Are people being told kind of where they can go, or right now, are all first responders just trying to search for those who may still be alive and everybody else is trying to pick up the pieces the best they can?

HOWELL: I think the latter. I think the people -- there's not really any organization right now in that regard. People are just going over, they are trying to help. They are trying to pick up the pieces. They are trying to get to their homes, Anderson, in many cases. A lot of these homes, if we can pan over here and just take a look at one of the neighborhoods, one of the rows of homes across the street from this school. I mean, that's what's left over. Not much.

These homes have been ripped down, trees have been torn apart. There are downed power lines. We do know that the power has been cut out here so that's some good news. There are a lot of power lines on the road, but yes, I mean, people are just going through these neighborhoods, going back to their homes. A lot of them for the first time, just getting to their homes right now. The traffic trying to get into this neighborhood is really bad.

It took us a long time, you know, to make it into this neighborhood to see this vantage point. Some people are getting to their homes right now for the first time to see what's left over.

COOPER: Right. I also just want to stress the images you are seeing on the right-hand side of your screen up until a few seconds ago from our affiliate KFOR. There they are again. Those are -- they're obviously taken from a helicopter. There is now a request for helicopters not to be flying below a certain elevation, a certain altitude, in order to not cause noise because the first responders want to hear anybody who may be crying out for help.

So I just want to give you the heads up. I'm told that that helicopter from KFOR is flying at a high enough distance that it is not causing any interference to search and rescue operations. That's obviously an important point because, though it's important to get pictures, but what's most important is to save lives who are on the ground and all news crews, any helicopters have been told to fly above a certain altitude so as not to be any kind of a distraction.

George, we're going to come back to you a little bit later on throughout this hour.

I want to go to Nick Valencia, who is also in Moore.

Nick, explain where you are and what you're seeing.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, I'm just about two and a half blocks away from George Howell's position. We got here and just as we got here, there was residents, a group of young men that were looking for their friends. They hadn't -- they couldn't find their house. Their house was blown away. We tried to talk to them but they were very emotional at the time.

We've spoken to other residents as well, Anderson, who are also missing loved ones. Right now we know that first responders are fanning across the debris here and I just want you to take a look at the images behind me. This was a neighborhood. This was a working class neighborhood in Moore, Oklahoma. A mixture of immigrants, Latinos, just working class people all around, and it's been reduced to this.

Walls torn apart, homes destroyed, telephone lines down, and there's this smell of gas as the wind blows through here, the smell of gas all around us, just block after block, this devastation keeps going. People are trying, scrambling to try to recover what they can. I spoke to another resident who was riding out the storm in a shelter. She said the wind force was so strong that it cracked the shelter that she was in. She came to us, I interviewed her just a short time ago. She had her dog and very little else, had a basket with a baby's belongings.

I also interviewed a man who is -- who rode out the storm with his handicapped wife. He said he put his faith in the Lord and he -- he didn't have a storm shelter, Anderson. He took cover and refuge in the bathroom, and was able to get out alive. We saw pictures inside that gentleman's home. It was ravaged by this tornado, that EF-4 tornado, that just ripped through this neighborhood -- Anderson.

COOPER: We know there was warning for this -- for this storm and obviously this is an area that is used to storms like this. The question is, some people, as Nick was just reporting, did not -- didn't have a basement, sometimes the bathtub was the best that they could do.

Nick, in terms of where people can go, where they can get information, I mean, if they are searching for loved ones, is there any central point that they can go to, or is it still too -- kind of too early in the process for that level of organization?

VALENCIA: I mean, this just happened a few hours ago. I think people are still trying to put together and make sense of this all. The Red Cross has had shelters in place for a tornado that hit a neighboring county that had three shelters in place where people from Pottawatomie County were staying overnight because of a tornado that hit on the other side of town. In fact, we had just wrapped up coverage of the day of that tornado. We were at the hotel as this tornado formed here in Moore, Oklahoma.

As we saw the -- just how enormous and the span of the tornado, Anderson, and just how wide it was ripping through -- ripping through this area. It was just terrible to see. I want to bring in our producer, Josh Ruben, who was actually able to go back behind me into this neighborhood, into those blocks, and see what was going on there.

Josh, what did you see over there?

JOSH RUBEN, CNN PRODUCER: Well, there's only one way into the neighborhood. If you work your way back this way, you're completely cut off by debris. And just down the way a little bit, you can basically work your way into the neighborhood. And once you walk in there, it's almost a parody of lazy Monday afternoon.

Residents all over the place sitting in front of their houses shell-shocked, talking to each other, comforting each other. Emergency response vehicles began to come through, there seems to be an entrance on the far side of there where ambulances and fire engines and rescue workers are kind of able to get access to it. But everywhere you look, there are people that are rooting through their belongings, climbing in unsafe conditions.

VALENCIA: Right. RUBEN: I mean, climbing to the second floor of a house that is in no way capable of sustaining somebody standing on the second floor of that house. So it is still a very dangerous situation back there.

VALENCIA: And there's seemingly no order to this -- to this chaos right now. Lot of residents still walking around here with sort of bewildered looks walking around dazed and confused -- Anderson.

COOPER: And obviously the focus, as you can see from the images on the right-hand side of your screen, the focus is on search and rescue efforts, one going on right there at that school.

Nick is going to be reporting with us throughout this hour and throughout this night, of course. I also want to go next to our Gary Tuchman, who is also in Moore. He joins us on the phone.

Gary, I know you have actually been walking now for quite some time through a lot of different neighborhoods. Tell us about what you've seen.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Right, Anderson. As we're speaking, I am now coming up to the school, and I can tell you it's a chilling sight right now. It looks like a combination of Iraq and Japan when the tsunami hit. You have dogs here, you have hundreds of rescue people, you have 50 or 60 vehicles with flashing lights and they are still digging through the school as we speak.

What I should tell you is we don't know yet what the toll, casualty toll, happened here. It's very important, there's a lot of speculation. We just don't know at this point. There are a lot of structures down and until a short time ago, two adults in a structure, they were both alive and they both looked like they were talking. And that was a good sign. But we don't know the toll.

But I can tell you for the two miles I've walked, there has been extensive destruction and devastation the entire walk. And this area near the school, several blocks, these houses just haven't been destroyed. They have disappeared. There is absolutely nothing left. It's like a moonscape.

So this is very similar to what we saw in Joplin, Missouri, in 2011, where 158 people were killed. Very similar to Greenburg, Kansas, in 2007 where so many people were killed. And it's a very devastating scene.

I apologize for being out of breath but a short time ago I made a rookie mistake. I saw a body of water which I thought was very shallow and it turned out to be five feet deep. And I got kind of stuck in it as I was walking over here so I'm a little out of breath right now. I'm trying to catch up but it's a very sad and devastating scene here in this suburb of Oklahoma City.

COOPER: Gary, you said you're by this school and obviously we're seeing the images from overhead from a high vantage point of dozens of rescue workers combing through this rubble, using their hands at this point. And I know they've been listening for the cries of anyone who may still be alive in there. One local reporter talking to a rescue personnel probably about two hours ago, that personnel said that there had been 75 kids in the school.

That is -- that came from one on the scene rescue personnel, unclear how many of those kids have now -- have thus far been accounted for. Are you seeing parents and family members by that school, Gary, or are they being kept a distance away?

TUCHMAN: There are some here. Most are being kept away. There's extensive security here. What's killing, Anderson, the scene you're describing and the scene I'm witnessing reminds me very much of 1995, the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing. We got here hours afterwards just a short distance from here, 30 minutes away from where we're standing, and we saw hundreds of rescuers going through the rubble not only with machines but by hand. And that's what we're witnessing right now at the shop of Oklahoma City, 18 years after the Oklahoma City bombing.

Obviously it's a natural disaster but it's a very similar scene and a very frightening scene to watch, especially the few parents, as I just mentioned to you, who got by and are wondering where their children are right now, hoping they're in the hospital and definitely hoping and praying they're not in this rubble because it is absolutely devastating.

COOPER: Gary, we're going to continue to check in with you throughout the evening and throughout the night. I want to bring a big picture to all of this, give us a sense of this -- of this tornado and any more to come.

Chad Myers is joining us from the weather center.

And Chad, at this point, it is still very early hours in this search and rescue effort. We know just from past efforts soon they'll have to divide up the disaster zone into grids and go house by house, block by block, literally foot by foot to search for any survivors and account for all the people.

At this point give us a big picture of how big this tornado was and where it hit.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It was the storm as big as two counties wide, all the way from well east of Oklahoma City back down to Newcastle and Moore and then through Twin Lakes. Here's the radar site right there. This right here would be about 60 miles from one side to the other and the tornado down here, touched down first in Newcastle.

The first warning came out at about 2:40 p.m. The first touchdown. We watched it on TV, about 2:53 to 2:55 p.m. so a few minutes' notice for Newcastle and it continued to drive itself right into Moore.

There is the hook echo. We talk about the hook. This is the rotation. This is the semicircle, the hook right there that is the most dangerous part of the storm, and the tornado would be right there, right at that point, at that -- right on that -- right there. And even something called today a debris ball. And we use this term very often but it's new. It's new because we have new Doppler technology.

The Doppler can actually pick up the fact that it's not rain that's coming down, it's shingles that are coming down. Tree limbs, leaves, insulation, whatever. That's called the debris of a tornado vortex signature. It's the debris of the tornado. And they -- we saw that ball heading right toward downtown Moore and it moved very slowly. It seemed like it took hours. We were watching it one after the other, one minute after the next, on the ground with an EF-4 power.

That's about 166, 200 miles per hour. I've seen some homes that are completely gone. I've seen homes where there was a slab and there should be a house on top, it's gone. That indicates even the potential of above 200 miles per hour which would bring it up into the EF-5 category. Weather Service is not going to do that for a couple of days. They have to go out and look for it. They don't want to go out and look at it while we still have search and rescue on the ground. Certainly that is not their priority to figure out how big it is. We know it was a huge, huge tornado.

South of Dallas, still have a couple of storms to worry about. Southwest of Ardmore, I don't believe at this hour, though, Anderson, that we have anything on the ground. I don't believe there's a tornado on the ground at this hour. I couldn't say that a half hour ago. Even the tornado watch for St. Louis. We'll watch all these storms. If they continue to spin or put anything down close to the ground, a funnel or tornado, we'll get back to you. But now it's cooling down and that cooler part of the day, the storms aren't usually so big.

COOPER: Now for the survivors and for the rescuers, Chad, who are combing through the rubble, and they're going to be doing that all night as darkness now comes, what kind of weather are they facing? Is it rain? What are their conditions?

MYERS: You know, this is the thing about yesterday as well. With the storms going through Shawnee and even very close to Norman yesterday, that should have taken everything and shoved it off to the east but it didn't. Because the humidity stayed. The humidity actually backed up back into the same areas. Tomorrow, the same cells could be close, but I believe all future weather will be about 75 to 150 miles southeast of where all of this recovery will take place.

There's one cell right now just popping up over Edmond. That will not, though, affect down here, the Newcastle/Moore area. That will continue up the turnpike towards Tulsa.

COOPER: All right, Chad. Appreciate that. We'll check in with you.

More now on what people are doing to help. About a half dozen area churches have opened their doors to anyone seeking shelter. St. Andrew's United Methodist, at 2727 Southwest 119th Street in Oklahoma City is offering shelter as well as a place for families to reunite. Now if you're seeking -- and this is important. If you're seeking information about a loved one or would like to help out, you can call the American Red Cross Oklahoma City office at 405-228-9500, that's 405-228-9500.

To donate, you can go to You can text REDCROSS to 90999 or call 1-800-REDCROSS, that's 1-800-REDCROSS.

And again, we are anticipating a press conference very shortly with new information from the area. We'll bring that to you, of course, live. We are live obviously throughout the evening. You're going to hear next from a survivor at the school and Moore's hometown congressman joins us as our tornado coverage continues.


COOPER: Welcome back. We are looking live at the search now under way at Plaza Towers Elementary School as darkness begins to fall. That's going to just make the job all that more difficult. One sixth grader, whose name is Brady, we don't know his last name, survived along with his mother, a teacher at the school.


BRADY, TORNADO SURVIVOR: I was in my classroom building and we were told to get in our tornado precaution systems, but then they moved us to the boys and girls bathroom, and then some kids were not following directions of staying away from under the sinks and stuff, and they got under there and cinder blocks and everything collapsed on them. But they were underneath so that kind of saved them a little bit but I mean, they were trapped in there, teachers had to hurry up and get them outside because a gas leak happened and over on 149th.


COOPER: On the phone is Nick Cornett, who's mayor of Oklahoma City.

Mr. Mayor, appreciate you joining us. What's your sense of how rescue operations are going right now?

MAYOR NICK CORNETT, OKLAHOMA CITY: Well, it's a very slow and tedious process, as you can imagine. Right now we're trying to find people and trying to see who might not be accounted for and if they're not accounted for, where they might be. This is a process that will probably take us, you know, into tomorrow before we start to have the type of data, you know, that people usually expect in large-scale disasters like this.

It's a horrific case. I tell you, Anderson, what strikes me is we have had in not too distant memory a couple of large tornadoes in this area, but generally, these types of tornadoes hit during the evening hours or nighttime hours. What stands out to me is this one hit during the daytime when we had kids in school. And that's something that we're having to deal with that we've never had to deal with before.

COOPER: In terms of the amount of time, we've heard that, you know, there was -- there was some warning. There were some precious minutes that the folks were able to try to get to a safe location but some people didn't have -- don't have basements, didn't have anywhere else to go other than, you know, their bathroom, their bathtub. In terms of trying to account for everybody, how do you even go about that process?

CORNETT: Well, a lot of it is door-to-door. But usually if somebody is missing, someone will draw attention to authorities. I can't find my neighbors, I can't find my relative. You know, people are checking on each other and, you know, as people go through the neighborhoods, they -- at this stage, you know, there's people keeping track of who's around and who's not. So it's not an exact science but, you know, it can be done. And, you know, people are extra cautious in looking after people, especially the elderly or any person that might not have had the ability to get out of the way.

COOPER: Well, certainly people come together in a time like this. We've seen that time after time. Obviously with nightfall, darkness now coming, it's going to become that much more difficult for rescue personnel. Do you feel like there are an adequate number of rescue personnel on the ground at this point? Where is the greatest need?

CORNETT: Well, that's a good question. I've not heard that they don't have enough. But when you're talking about the expansive area here, I would guess the situation, the problem is two-fold. One, you've got to a certain level secure the area and to a certain extent, you've got to be in a widespread, you know, search and rescue operation.

So our first responders are stretched, especially in the city of Moore, you know, which has a lot fewer resources than we have, and more damage than we've had. So the state and National Guard are going to be involved and of course, I've been in contact with the White House a couple of times today. They're offering help where needed. You bring up some good points. I think we've got enough to the extent that you can have enough in a situation like this.

COOPER: Yes. And obviously, it's evolving hour by hour, you're going to readjust your needs accordingly.

Mr. Mayor, appreciate your time tonight. Thank you. My best to all the people in harm's way tonight. Thank you very much.

I want to quickly go to George Howell outside the school.

George, again, we just heard from the mayor there in Oklahoma City, and it is getting dark there now. How much more light is there about left? About -- when do you expect to be completely dark?

HOWELL: You know, I think maybe we have about an hour to go, Anderson, before we see dark over this debris that's left over here at the school. Been talking to people here just about what happened right after that tornado came through, and we're hearing a couple of stories. First of all, a lot of people in the neighborhoods, they went to the school to try to help.

Also, people in the neighborhoods went door-to-door trying to help their neighbors. And I want to bring in a couple here. Talk to me if you could just about what you did after the storm came through.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After the storm came through, I found my way back into the neighborhood, I had to drive through some fields to get in, but I got in. There was just carnage. You know, but it had to be done. People needed to be helped. And so I started rounding everybody up. People were just running up and down the streets. And I got them hollering out, you know, if you can hear me, call out.

And we started finding people and we started getting people out. We saw some unfortunate things but we also helped a lot of people. And that's what's important.

HOWELL: But if you could talk to me about what it was like for you to get out with your one-month-old.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, he jumped out immediately when we parked in front of our pile of what used to be our house and I couldn't leave her so I actually did run a couple of ambulance runs out to triage so I got to feel a little useful. But mostly for me it was just observing everybody walking up and down the street looking for people, loved ones, pets, lot of pets.

HOWELL: Mr. (INAUDIBLE), I also wanted to ask you, I mean, right when that tornado was coming through, did you see it? I mean, what was happening?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely I saw it. We left the house, I waited until the last minute. I wanted to make sure that I wasn't going to drive into it. And I went north, I saw it, and it was heading north so I went south, and it looked like it was just coming straight east. The only way out of the neighborhood was down and out through a field.

It just looked like a big meat grinder, blender, just the way the movies make it look. Absolute carnage, sky full of things that need to be on the ground. It was insane.

HOWELL: And that your home, tell me about your home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My home. My home was a work in progress. We were remodeling a bathroom. We just finished our nursery for the baby. I mean, we have insurance so we'll see how that goes in the morning but it's starting to set in. It's just a total loss. Everything's gone. We're finding clothes so we'll be good for a few days.

HOWELL: Just --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have the important things out here.

HOWELL: Just a minute ago the two of you had a moment of levity, you had a little joke. I mean, what did you say?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We actually called the roofing company, we had a new roof put on a few years ago and it was starting to leak the last few storms. So we called them to have them come out and take a look at the leak. Now we don't have a roof.


HOWELL: Guys, thank you. Thank you for taking time. So thankful that you survived.

And, you know, there are a lot of people who, after this storm, went door-to-door looking for neighbors, you know, thankful for the survivors but again, we're still at the point where we're watching what happens, Anderson, across the way from us here at that school. The search and rescue continues as people look for survivors in that school. We also know at Southwest 19th and Eagle Street, got some information that that's where parents are staging, Anderson. Parents who are looking for their children who were in this school. So again, Southwest 19th.


HOWELL: And Eagle Street, not far from this school, just putting that information out there for parents who are looking for their children.

COOPER: And, George, I've just gotten word from the state medical examiner, you see it on the screen there, the death toll has now been confirmed at 37 in Oklahoma. That's at 8:28 Eastern Time here in the United States. Again, that is a preliminary death toll but those are confirmed deaths by the state medical examiner at this point. Thirty-seven.

But again, there's a lot of people unaccounted for. We are still very early hours in this search and rescue operation. It is going to be going on all night and as you can tell from the images, it is getting darker and darker and darker, and that just makes it all the more difficult for those dozens and dozens and hundreds, really, of first responders who are all over this area, particularly a number focused on that school.

We're going to check back with George shortly. And again, we are awaiting that press conference. We'll be right back after this.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was just unbearably loud and you could see stuff flying everywhere, just about like on the movie "Twister."


COOPER: His name is Lando Hite. He took cover in a horse stall. Again, the breaking news, the very sad news right now, the state medical examiner is now reporting 37 fatalities from the tornado today, seven of those 37 are children from the Plaza Towers Elementary School.

Congressman Tom Cole represents Moore, Oklahoma, it's his town. These are his constituents, his neighbors and his friends. Congressman Cole joins us now on the phone. Congressman, as you watch these pictures, as you hear the rising death toll, you know this community well. What's the latest you're hearing from the scene?

REPRESENTATIVE TOM COLE (R), OKLAHOMA: Well, it's just devastating. I've talked to local officials, talked to governor's chief of staff and you know, what can you say, I mean, I'm literally looking at homes of my friends that -- businesses that I frequent. I'm very fortunate, my wife and I live about three blocks north of where all this is. So she's fine, but it's devastating. We've gone through this before. We've been hit in '98, '99 and '03.

We're very well prepared. We have tremendous first responders, great police and fire and frankly, the surrounding communities, situations like this, always come quickly. The governor has mobilized the National Guard and the people there are awfully tough and tenacious and they look after one another. When these things happen, you got a friend or neighbor who can help you. They're going to do it.

So it's about as well prepared a place as it can be. I look at Plaza Elementary, when I was a kid, I was a groundskeeper there. Put myself through college at the voting place so I've been there multiple times on Election Day. It just breaks your heart to think particularly in that particular place, what happened to children and teachers all of whom, by the way, did the right thing.

They didn't make any mistakes. That building's the safest building in the area. They got them into the interior. They did exactly what they were supposed to do. In a situation like this, you get hit by an F-4 or F-5 and you're above ground, even if you do everything right, there's not a lot you can do if you're directly in the path. That appears to be what happened there and a great many other people as well.

COOPER: From past experience, how long do you think it will be before there is -- before everybody is accounted for one way or another, before families are able to find out information about their loved ones?

COLE: It will happen pretty quickly. Again, they're good at it. It's a wide area of devastation, obviously the night makes it difficult, but I think in a couple days, people will know. It's uncertain for awhile because some people will literally, in this case, they had probably about 16 minutes' warning and people pay attention, quite a few of them will sometimes get off in the car and go.

So even though the house is gone and there's nobody there, it doesn't mean that somebody was there. They may well have either not come home from work, knowing that this was coming or moved in another direction. Again, people take these things very seriously. I would think in 48 to 72 hours, we'll have a pretty good handle, if not before. Sadly to say, we've had far too much practice at this sort of thing. They know what they're doing on the ground.

COOPER: Yes. Well, it's going to be a long night and a long couple days. Congressman, appreciate your time tonight. Thank you. Again, all our hearts go out to your constituents and all those in harm's way tonight and all those who are suffering.

Want to go back to our Nick Valencia who is on the ground there in Moore as darkness is falling -- Nick.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, we're hearing a lot of stories of survival in this community of Moore. We're just two and a half blocks from that elementary school that was hit hard by the tornado. We're not really hearing a lot from the first responders, but I want to introduce you to Clay Yaki. He is a resident, long-time resident. This is his childhood neighborhood. You showed up here and actually rescued your neighbor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I came through and just as soon as I came in, I started yelling, just see if I could find any response, and I heard him from down in the rubble of the house next door. And just started breaking down walls just to try and get to him. He was able to pull him out. He was in a closet, like they said, where you should be, and I can't believe that he made it through it. But knocked down the walls and pulled him out and he was all right. Not a scratch on him.

VALENCIA: How are you doing? You were digging through the debris of your childhood home here just a little while ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no words that can describe that. Your whole life is there. My parents have been here since '74. Everything's gone in an instant. There are no words that can describe that. It's devastating. Really is.

VALENCIA: This community has gone through a tornado before. When you pulled up here and you saw your community here devastated, what was going on in your mind?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First of all, you want to try and find anybody, any survivors, any sign of life. I mean, you want to do -- you don't know what you can do, really. You just want to do anything you can to help and you're just going from house to house yelling, searching for anybody that might be inside.

There's really -- when it hits, you don't really know how to respond. It's a fight or flight response. You just do whatever you can, do everything you can do to help. I feel terrible. I wish I could do something for the kids in the school because that's a devastating situation. Those kids are trapped. I mean, that's -- our thoughts and prayers need to be with those kids in all the schools around here.

VALENCIA: You're doing what you can. People like Clay are banding together in this neighborhood to help each other out -- Anderson.

COOPER: That's what's needed right now. Thank you. There is so much destruction right now in the city of Moore, just an extremely fluid situation. We've got the latest straight ahead. We'll be right back.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I got home I realized that there's nothing left of my house. The front is still standing but the back is gone. My bathroom honestly is untouched. We've lost animals. We've lost everything. We don't have anything left. My parents, I can't get hold of them. We have no cell. We, you know, if they're out there and they're watching, please let them know that I and my family's OK and we'll make it. We'll be OK, but everything's gone.


COOPER: Everything's gone. More on our breaking news, the deadly tornadoes that swept through the suburbs outside Oklahoma City, at least 37 people are dead. That's confirmed at this hour, seven of them, children at Plaza Towers Elementary School. There is a search going on right now for survivors who maybe possibly are trapped underneath the rubble there. At one point the twister was at least two miles wide and it wasn't the only one, only the worst.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got a tornado on the ground.


COOPER: Gary Tuchman joins us now. He is live on the scene joining us on the phone. Gary, explain where you are.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Anderson, I'm at the school, standing right next to where the search is frantically going on right now. We have about an hour of sunshine left. There's some clapping going on in the background. I don't know if you can hear that.

The reason there's some clapping in the background is right next to the school there's a house and they just found a live dog inside the house and the homeowner has just been reunited with her dog. It's actually beautiful. She's hugging her neighbors. That's a glimmer of good news.

The bad news that we have is as you said, 37 people dead, seven from this school. I just talked to two nurses on the scene. They told me they have been told they're still looking for 24 children who are missing.

I also witnessed something that as a father is just painful to watch and it's a man sitting right next to me as I'm talking to you right now, sitting on a stool. He's being comforted by a fireman and his son is one of the third graders who is still missing. He's very quiet. He has tears coming out of his eyes and there's nothing he can do.

He's just sitting here painfully waiting to see what happens. Everybody is working as hard as they possibly can. This whole area by the school has been totally decimated. It is flat. There are no homes left. There literally isn't. That's why it's amazing when they pulled this dog out of the rubble and the dog is licking the lady's face.

I wish we could show you these pictures. We can't get the live transmission in here. There are no roads left. It's just water and dirt where the roads used to be. Right now the search is still frantically taking place. The sun is still in the sky. They have a good hour left before it gets completely dark.

Then it will be very hard to see. They will bring lights in but this is the time, if anyone is still alive, they need to find them right now -- Anderson.

COOPER: So Gary, I just want to verify what you said before. You said and who did you hear from that 24 kids are still unaccounted for at the school?

TUCHMAN: The nurse, two nurses just came out, they were at the search site and they told me they have been told they're still searching for 24 children. It doesn't mean, we have to emphasize, it doesn't mean 24 children necessarily may have died. It may be somewhere else right now. We don't know the answer to that.

I can see as I'm looking right now, looking to the west where the sun is setting, it's a little hard to see but there are about 40 or 50 men and women who are in the rubble, searching by machine, searching by hand, very importantly, searching gingerly because they don't want to hurt anyone who may have survived with the machinery.

It's a very difficult situation. There are lots of people here helping. There are about 20 fire trucks. There are scores of police cars with their sirens and lights and right now, it is a very difficult scene to watch as we know the possibility exists that so many people perished inside this school and indeed, so many here in the suburb of Oklahoma City, Moore, Oklahoma.

COOPER: Gary, with light dimming, you said they are going to be able to bring in lights. Do they have generators and the like that they can actually light up that school in order to continue the search?

TUCHMAN: Yes. I see vehicles have been bringing in the lights for the last 45 minutes while I've been here. They definitely plan to continue the search into the night, but it is so much easier right now. It's actually perfect light right now to continue the search. That's why I was saying this is the peak time, the next hour. This is where they'll have some success. It's time to have it right now. COOPER: There you see one of the lights on the left-hand side of your screen. There's still so much we don't know. We are awaiting a press conference with authorities trying to give out the latest information. We'll obviously bring that to you live when we have it. The storms may not be over. There are new tornado warnings in the state.

Want to go to our meteorologist back with us is Chad Myers. Also joining us is Indira Peterson. So Chad, what else is happening in the area? Is there another storm?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know, every time a storm gets all by itself it can rotate, it can be a super cell tornado and that's what we still have now. Later tonight all these storms will line up and there will be some wind but Hannibal, Missouri, you still have one cell pretty much all by itself, not attached to other storms.

Every time you get that, you get a tornado on the ground. We've had a number of them tonight even though it's getting dark, it's not over. This can keep going all night. This can just go as long as it takes for this cool air to really settle in and like a hot air balloon that doesn't want to go up anymore, it's all going to come down and when it does it's finally over. Right now, it's not over.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You hear us talk about the threat of violent long-lived tornadoes. This is a 22-mile path of this devastating tornado that ripped through the area and unfortunately, as we will show you, as we take you, Chad will walk you through this path.

We will show you that where this tornado formed or was weakest and where it dissipated is where we did not have densely populated areas. Unfortunately, as it strengthened, in between Newcastle and Moore is where it started to intensify up towards the potential F-4, possibly F-5 strength tornado.

MYERS: Your population center right there, it started with nothing and wide open land and ended right here by lake Stanley Draper. Unfortunately, because it was on the ground so long, it had to hit something and that's what -- we can just zoom right in and show you what happened. We'll take you on down, at about 3:40 Eastern Time, the first warning came up at about 53 to 56, 13 minutes later, this is where it touched down, not very much going on.

PETERSONS: Yes, unfortunately, of course, as we started to see it strengthen as it moved closer towards Moore. That's where we started to see this really intensify, starting seeing winds potentially from 160 to 200 miles per hour. These really were as it started to move into densely populated areas.

MYERS: Here, right into the Briarwood Elementary and this is where the population center is and this is where all the devastation is right now.

PETERSONS: Yes, even with all that lead time, of course, we talked about 16 minutes before it went into Newcastle, but still, about good 20 or 30 minutes before it hit Moore. Unfortunately, it just was not enough time with devastation like this, nowhere to go.

COOPER: All right, appreciate that perspective. Chad, Indra, thanks. Our live coverage continues at night. We are as I said waiting for a press conference with the latest information, stay with us for that. We'll bring it to you when it happens.


COOPER: Taking you live to a press conference in Moore, Oklahoma.

GOVERNOR MARY FALLIN, OKLAHOMA: -- so many different areas and certainly today with the accumulation of this big tornado that headed along the same path of the May 3rd tornado in 1999, it's just hard to believe that something like this could happen again to Moore itself. I just want to say first of all that our prayers and our thoughts are with the Oklahoma families that have been hit hard by this terrible storm these last two days.

In particular, our hearts are just broken for the parents that are wondering the state of their children that have been in the schools that have been hit today and certainly the other businesses and facilities that have been hit hard. I know there are families wondering where their loved ones are and right now we're doing everything we can as a state to get as much emergency personnel, state agencies.

All the different charities that are out doing search and rescue efforts, trying to make sure that we have looked under every single piece of debris and every single building and along the roads and communities to find anyone that might be injured or might be lost from the storms that have hit the state of Oklahoma.

I just want to say how much I appreciate all the first responders, the law enforcement entities, the fire, the police, the Red Cross, Salvation Army, highway patrol. We've called out the National Guard and certainly many other emergency services throughout the state. The hospitals that are responding so well to those that have been injured in this terrible storm that has struck our state.

And we're doing everything we can to get all the resources out throughout this community and certainly we have other areas of the state that we're also dealing with right now. We will bear no resource. We will bring every single resource out that we can. We've had offers from other governors across the nation.

I have even had a phone call from President Obama, who sends his prayers for the state, has also offered to do anything that he can to speed up our federal assistance and any type of red tape that might be in our way at all for resources, too. We have called in extra resources from out of state for search and rescue.

We have brought in rescue dogs to go through the debris itself. It will be dark pretty soon and we want to do everything that we can to continue to look for those that might be lost in this tragedy. I want to encourage all Oklahomans that can to stay away. We have lots of law enforcement emergency personnel that are working on the sites itself.

We have tremendous traffic jams on our highways right now with I- 35 and I-44 that took a direct hit with the tornado crossing those areas and there are many side streets that are also jammed up with traffic. Communication is very hard with cell phone towers and also with downed power lines throughout various areas of the state, in particular in Moore and this vicinity, too.

So communication's very, very hard so we're asking the public to be as patient as possible in letting us work through what we need to, and knowing that we're doing every single thing that we can to assist those that are in need right now and bring out the resources.

I want to say thank you so very much to the media. The media has done a superb job over the last couple of days of keeping people informed about the current weather conditions, especially our weatherman and those that have been on the ground driving and tracking the storm itself.

As I visited around Bethel Acres today, the trailer park that lost so many homes and lost some people, and also around Carney, Oklahoma and Highway 177 in Shawnee, many people came up and said because of the media, and their rapid response and recording on the track of the storms, they were able to get to a storm shelter and we saved a lot of lives because of that.

But as we know today, we've had a massive tornado, a huge one that has passed through this community. We do know there are fatalities. We don't have a number count yet. We know there are a lot of injuries. We know we've lost a tremendous amount of structures throughout this community and throughout the state.

Our Health Department and our medical examiner are working as quick as they can to try to help families identify and try to find their loved ones. For those families who don't know the status of their loved ones and in particular, the children that were in the schools that have been hit, there is a reunification center set up at St. Andrew's Church at 119th and South Main.

And our prayers are with you, and we are working as quickly as we can to try to get through the debris and to try to answer some questions about where loved ones are. We have, of course, signed a federal emergency declaration yesterday for 16 counties. Today, we've added another five counties to the emergency declaration.

It will allow us to access emergency services, coordinate with the local communities, make emergency purchases for the communities, bring in resources to help with the search and rescue and certainly with the cleanup itself, and we have been in direct contact with FEMA and talking to them about the various types of aid and assistance that we need, both for individual families for our businesses and the community disaster relief itself.

Please know that we're working as quickly as we can. There are a tremendous amount of people that are helping. For those who aren't involved in rescue operations, please stay away from the immediate facility -- vicinity so that we can bring in the type of emergency services that we need to and we will be continuously updating you.

Tomorrow, I will be taking an aerial tour with our National Guard. I did call out earlier today, early in the afternoon, when I saw the tornado hitting this area. I called out 80 of our National Guard to help secure the perimeters and also help our highway patrol with traffic congestion on our highways and to secure the areas that have been affected.

So we are working with our Red Cross, our Salvation Army and many of our charities to get food and water and emergency shelters out to those that have lost their home and certainly to help feed and hydrate those that are working at the scene with our emergency responders.

I will stop right now and turn it over to our Emergency Management Director, Albert Ashwood. He set up the operations command center yesterday when we were having the various tornadoes that swept through Oklahoma. They have not taken down the center. It's been up all night and certainly up all day today. It's been a very busy time.

Albert, thank you so much for the tremendous amount of work you and your staff and the coordination, there's about 50 people in the command center right now working with all the various state agencies, with federal entities, local communities and certainly with our state charities. Thank you, Albert, for your work.

ALBERT ASHWOOD, DIRECTOR, EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: I appreciate that. I would like to echo what Governor Fallin said. We want to offer everything the state has to offer. That's what we're doing. We are going through the National Guard, the Department of Public Safety. We have looked to our federal partners and Federal Emergency Management Agency.

They have been great partners over the years with the number of disasters we've had. We have three search and rescue teams that are moving this way at the disposal of local search and rescue if they're needed. Those would be similar to the teams that we used during the Oklahoma City bombing back in 1995.

As far as recovery, as the governor said, we do anticipate receiving a federal declaration very shortly that will help individuals with their unmet needs, of course, and to help them with their immediate needs to try to find a roof over their head and a place to take their family for the short term.

At this time, I'm going to turn it over to the real people that are where the rubber meets the road here. That would be the city of Moore, Steve Eddy, the senior manager, please come forward.

FALLIN: If I could just add two more quick things. I want to just mention that I have been in touch with our president pro tem of the Oklahoma Senate. The Senate tomorrow will be running some legislation in the final days of the legislature to allow the state if it needs to, to be able to access our state rainy day fund, our emergency fund, to help our various communities and certainly our schools that have suffered so much. But if we do need some money, we'll have some legislation that will allow us to do that. Of course, we will be receiving some federal disaster relief.