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THE SITUATION ROOM
Huge Tornado Hits Oklahoma City Area; Oklahoma School Leveled by Tornado
Aired May 20, 2013 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A monster tornado that we're watching right now, at least two miles wide, two miles.
It devastates the Oklahoma City area. This is a huge urban area. Hundreds of thousands of people live in this area. This is what it looked like within the last two hours or so during the twister's long and terrifying assault.
And this is what it looks like now, some people saying like a major war area, bombs going off. Look at this destruction in this area. It's clear from the pictures the damage is catastrophic, and we're only beginning to see this destruction. Ladies and gentlemen, it's going to get a whole lot worse, we're told, but local authorities.
People are still trapped in big numbers in the wreckage. Some are still hunkered down because the storm danger, certainly, has not yet passed. Look at this. We believe this, this is an elementary school, an elementary school literally torn to shreds.
There's a desperate attempt under way right now to rescue dozens and dozens of children still trapped in the wreckage. We're getting firsthand accounts of the damage, the rescue operation, and the raw fear when the tornado hit. This is an awful, awful story, and, unfortunately, it's only just beginning.
Let's go to our affiliate KOCO for more, because they are interviewing survivors.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Me and four other guys pulled a teacher out. She was on top of three kids. The kids were fine. She was hurt pretty bad. We put her on a door and then put her on top of the jeep and wheeled her out to the ambulances, because there were so many cars around. But, other than that, as far as I know, most of the kids got out.
QUESTION: And I know a lot of parents have been trying to get ahold of our station and trying to find out if their kids are OK. Again, though, describe that scene and exactly what was going on when you got over there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kids everywhere, people running around screaming. There was cars on their sides. School's just gone. You really can't tell what was the front and what was the back anymore.
QUESTION: And people were yelling for help?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, so to speak, yes. Looking for their children.
QUESTION: So, we have gotten reports that, I guess, a search- and-rescue mission is going on right now with first-responders. What have you heard? Are you in contact with anybody at the school?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. I don't have any kids. So, as far as I know, they have gotten all of them out.
QUESTION: Have you had a chance to walk up and down the street, and if so, what are you seeing, what are people telling you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My house was pretty untouched, but as far as I can see everybody else's, their houses are just gone. I pulled this gentleman out here in the wheelchair, and, I mean, he was all right, but everybody else just seems to be fine.
QUESTION: Describe what it was like, though, when this tornado was coming through.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just stepped outside whenever I saw it behind the house. And I ducked back inside and hit the bathroom. Then I just heard everything crumbling around me.
QUESTION: Why did you come out here, though? What are you doing out?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had just gotten home from work, hadn't really heard anything about it. And I just heard the wind howling outside, so I had to get out there and see what was going on.
QUESTION: I know there's tons of traffic all over the city of Moore. We're hearing lots of rumors about injuries, potentially fatalities. What have you heard and what have you seen in other areas other than this neighborhood?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Other than this neighborhood, I haven't been anywhere. Heard Briarwood Elementary is gone. There was a fire a couple streets down. Several -- I saw several people hurt, policemen trying to get him out. Other than that, I was just trying to make sure everybody's all right.
QUESTION: I can smell in the air right now -- there's that smell, that potent smell of gas. What's going on?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just most people's gas meters in their backyards are broken. Lots of power lines are down. Everything's just gone. Just -- yes.
QUESTION: Right now, though, and just getting a look at this, as my photojournalist, Brian Dixon (ph), just shows us the street, all this destruction, it is truly stunning to think that everybody has gotten out alive. When you look at this, what goes through your mind?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How sad it is. It's...
BLITZER: All right, let's break away from KOCO and go to KFOR, our other affiliate. They have an update on the destruction of this school.
LANCE WEST, KFOR REPORTER: ... as they try to get back, a lot of the folks, who have been joining in the search efforts, because, quite frankly, it is noisy.
And if there are children who are trying to scream for help, they can't get to them, so they are trying to get some hysterical parents back. Every possible emergency personnel is here doing their best to pull the victims out alive.
I did speak to a teacher. Her name was Rhonda (ph), sixth grade teacher here. She is nothing short a hero. She had six kids with her in the bathroom. She laid on top of them as the storm passed through. They are all alive. All four -- I understand that the fourth, sixth -- or pardon me -- fourth, fifth, and sixth grade students were all accounted for and have been moved to a church that is in the area. And they are safe there.
So, right now, still unaccounted for, I suppose, kindergarten, first, second, third graders. Still no word on those kids right now. But parents are just now beginning to arrive, kind of (AUDIO GAP) all the mayhem. And as you can expect, they want to help. They are yelling at rescuers, why aren't they doing more?
But, believe me, these folks are doing everything they can to save whoever may be trapped in this debris. They are about to bring in some heavy equipment. I see a tractor about 50 yards from me that they are trying to get in through this mass of humanity so they can, hopefully, remove some heavier debris, and get to what is underneath.
But for those who may just be joining us, we do know that the third grade class was in a hallway, a classroom taking refuge from the storm and that part of the building is completely gone. There are no walls standing of this school. It is wiped to the foundation. It's just nothing more than a big pile of debris. And like I said before, we can only hope and pray for the best that they can find these kids and these teachers alive.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, Lance, so we can pass this information on to parents, because there are some hysterical parents with Sarah Stewart right now whose children attend Plaza Towers Elementary, you're saying the fourth, fifth, and sixth grade students are all accounted for. And where are they?
WEST: They are at a church, which is about a quarter-mile from here. I will see if I can get the information. The name of that church, I don't know right now, but I was told by the teacher that the -- those grades were escorted there before the tornado hit. They were not in the school at the time. So, they are safe.
I have just walked up on another triage center. It's, essentially, a red tarp that is laid on the concrete. There's a woman here whose head is wrapped, blanket over here. She is breathing. I suspect she's with a loved one right now. I don't know if she's associated with the school or not, because, as we mentioned before, this is -- the school is in the middle of a neighborhood and the neighborhood is gone as well.
So, there will be victims at the school and I suspect in many of the homes around here as well.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Unfortunately, it sounds like there will be.
And folks got to know that those rescue workers have to step gingerly there. They can't move real quickly. They don't want to step on a student or -- that may be buried under rubble. They want to listen for voices, maybe kids crying for help or just crying.
And so that's why they have to move a little bit slower than maybe the parents would like.
WEST: Absolutely. And let me tell you, there are, obviously, raw emotions out here, even among the rescue workers.
When a sergeant with the Oklahoma City Police Department was asking people to get back, he was tearing up as he was confronted by a father who was upset that they weren't doing more. So, obviously, it's traumatic for everybody. And they are doing everything in their power to get these kids, to get these faculty members out of this debris.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lance, we hate to deal with numbers, but parents who are watching need to hear these numbers so they can understand what's transpiring, because the numbers tell the story.
When we talked to you about an hour ago, 30 minutes ago, you said that 75 students were believed to be in the school at the time the twister hit. Is that still the case?
WEST: That is the last count that we have that in this particular part of the school -- and this is the only area of the school that they are searching in right now. It's the south portion of the school.
They were -- I was told that there were 75 kids who took refuge in that hallway, which typically has those reinforced cinder block walls. Those are typically the safest place to go when a tornado hits if you can't go underground. Obviously, a tornado of this magnitude, it was not able to sort of withstand Mother Nature. And that area is wiped out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fourth, fifth, and sixth graders, apparently, were taken out of the school.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Before it hit.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before it hit. Now, because you talked about 30 that were taken out of the school and relocated at a church.
WEST: That's correct.
I spoke to a parent, and he said early on, initially, there were 30 children that were taken out of this particular area of the school, the south portion. Now, I don't know that those included the fourth, fifth, and sixth graders. I believe that they were gone before the tornado hit.
They were evacuated and taken to a church, which is to our south. I'm still trying to get some details on the name of that church, but that's sort of a rallying point right now for parents as they are looking for the kids.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And just to clarify one more time, it's the third grade class that appeared to be in the hallway that searchers are looking for right now, some third graders; is that correct?
WEST: That's what I have heard from one rescuer and also from a teacher, that this was the area where the third grade kids had taken refuge from the storm.
And based on the young man who I saw pulled out a while back, I would say about the age third grade, so maybe 8, 9 years old. And he was fine, along with a schoolteacher. And they have been taken off to a nearby hospital, I suspect, but they are alive and well. And the search continues tonight. And we're not going anywhere. We're going to be right here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lance West, thank you very much. We can't tell you how much we hope to be able to report that every one of those children is alive and well.
We will continue to stay on top of it for you parents who can't make your way there. Our hearts go out to you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We feel for you. We are going to get you the information as quickly and accurately as we can.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Speaking of information, we need to get some new accurate information on the storm center right now.
Let's go over to Mike Morgan for...
BLITZER: All right, so we're going to continue to monitor our affiliates, KFOR, KOCO, in Oklahoma City.
The damage is devastating, as you can see, especially -- we have been following these two elementary schools that suffered enormously, the Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma, the Briarwood Elementary School in Oklahoma City.
And we're following the rescue operation that is now under way, these first -- these preschool, pre-kindergarten through sixth graders in both of these elementary schools. Look at the destruction. Look at the pictures that are coming in.
David Massey is joining us on the phone right now. He took some video, short video clips, posted them on Vine on Twitter, these Vine videos.
David, I want to play these little videos for our viewers and then we will discuss what's going on. Watch this. Here's the first one. And we just see your video, and then your words on the right. "There's a tornado, literally, right by our home." And you can see that tornado moving close right there.
David, you -- are you on the phone?
DAVID MASSEY, STORM SURVIVOR: Yes, I'm here.
BLITZER: Tell us what it was like.
MASSEY: Well, you know, it was very close to our home.
If it would have been heading north, it would have hit our neighborhood. And I was with my father to go ahead north and try to get to a storm shelter at a grandparent's house. And that's about the time that the storm went east into that Moore neighborhood, was where I went later and took those videos.
BLITZER: Here's the second video that you posted, "Completely obliterated neighborhood two miles from my home.'
Describe what we're seeing.
MASSEY: Well, I parked my car and walked towards where I saw the police cars and all the people. And I was walking towards the neighborhood and then, you know, you really see the devastation, that the entire neighborhood was leveled. People were running down the street. People were crying.
And there's plenty of first-responders blocking the roads off and going towards the scene.
BLITZER: Here's another one, "The middle of a leveled neighborhood. Trapped people are calling for help." You saw trapped people, David?
I heard people calling for help. There was one woman. She just needed help getting up. There was debris over here. But she was unhurt. I did see a young man. He was walking through the neighborhood. He just looked stunned. He had his hands over -- his arms over his head crying. And the man who told me later that he was pulled out from underneath rubble and he was unhurt, but he was looking at his destroyed house. He looked like he was alone, looking for family or just anything.
BLITZER: You posted this one. This is a very sad one. "These men are looking for a lost little boy named Tommy."
Did they find him, do you know?
MASSEY: No. I was in the middle of the neighborhood and a woman ran up and said that a little boy was missing and he was possibly in one of the homes underneath the rubble.
And so all the -- this was just a group of men that were helping out that were organized. And they ran over to on top of the home and were screaming his name, but they didn't get a response from him. And they ran to another area.
And I was pretty overwhelmed. That's the time I -- I walked away when they couldn't hear anything from him.
BLITZER: David Massey, thank you very much for sharing these emotional stories, sharing this video with our viewers. Good luck to you. Good luck to everybody in Oklahoma.
We're just getting word, by the way, that the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management confirming that the National Guard in Oklahoma has been activated in response to these tornadoes.
We're also getting word that the preliminary rating of damage created by the Moore, Oklahoma, tornado is least -- at least, at least an EF-4. That would be 166 to 200 miles per hour. The National Weather Service said this on Monday, an EF-4 tornado, 166 to 200 miles an hour.
I want to show our viewers a picture of the Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma. Here it is. This is Plaza Towers before this tornado hit this area. And you saw the destruction, the devastation afterwards.
Chad, you're with us right now. Our viewers who are just tuning in, they are seeing these awful images, the destruction in Moore, Oklahoma, and elsewhere. Update our viewers, first of all, on what has happened, Chad.
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: About three-and-a-half-hours ago, we saw the first storms pop up near Duncan, Oklahoma, southwest of Oklahoma City about 100 miles.
Then a few more popped up. And one started to rotate near Newcastle, Oklahoma. Now, that's just southwest of Oklahoma City. It continued to rotate and quickly from nothing to a funnel to an EF-2 on the ground in just five to 10 minutes, and then it grew in size and it kept growing. And you just said the EF-4 tornado, that's preliminary.
There may be higher wind gusts somewhere, but that would be my exact guess, an EF-3 to EF-4 at this point, which means many of the walls of homes will be gone, but there may still be an interior closet, an interior room that will still be OK. If you get to the EF-5, that's over 200, there will be nothing left except the concrete slab that the house once sat on. Something else I want to talk about here, Wolf, I don't believe we're done just yet. There's a tornado warning for the town of Comanche, Texas.
I believe there very well may be a tornado on the way to you, Comanche, Texas, southwest of Dallas-Fort Worth. And Dallas-Fort Worth, although 100 miles away from you, there are still tornado possibilities getting to you, especially into the Fort Worth neighborhoods, probably in the next hour-and-a-half or so.
Henrietta, about here, a little bit farther to the north, into Oklahoma, still possibly tornadoes here, up towards Bartlesville. All these big red boxes means that any storm that develops, that moves towards you, especially the southwest side of any discreet storm like that one right there, that could be rotating and there could be a tornado on the ground at any time. You still need to watch these storms.
They are not done yet, Wolf.
BLITZER: Chad, hold on a minute.
A KFOR chopper reporter is narrating what he is seeing right now. Listen to this.
JON WELSH, KFOR REPORTER: What is striking to me, on top of the roof, that's -- they have a roof like we do. It's just a -- it's a plastic or a rubber vinyl roof over, you know, a flat pitch.
Well, they have got shingles and stuff on there that came from the neighboring houses, so that building when they put it up -- yes, go ahead. Yes, we will be on it here in a second.
Go to your left, Travis. Keep going left and straight down. It's right out my door. OK. We're -- zoom out. Right there. There it is right there.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... rescue workers. We talked to Betsy Randolph with the OHP, Oklahoma Highway Patrol, about 24 minutes ago, according to my notes.
And she said responders were having a very difficult time even getting in to the area because I-35, as you had told us before, traffic had been stopped so people couldn't drive into the storm, but then you had traffic backed up for miles with nowhere to go and now responders can't get through.
WELSH: Yes. It's a definite -- and when we got gas to go, people asked me -- they are ready to go home, and they said, hey, how can we get out of here? And I said, well, you might just want to -- I know it stinks you got to stay here tonight, but you're going to clog up the roadway with people the need to get on here. It might not be a bad idea just to stay in place.
I-35 at Indian Hills Road, on the northbound lane is backed up all the way to 110-A, which is going to be the Robinson Street exit there in Norman. So, traffic is backed up all the way there. I'm looking back to the north and I'm not seeing very -- I'm not really seeing any traffic on out -- on southbound I-35, so they have to be backed up or shut down probably about to I-40 to Dallas Junction, so I don't know if they are sending them down I-44 or other ways or if maybe they just stopped the roadway completely.
But, again, on these -- like, on -- let's see here -- on Santa Fe just south of Fourth Street, there are still cars that are blocked up right there. And part of this is from the police did a great job of blocking people off when they saw where the damage path was and they were not even letting people continue to climb in there, continue to drive in there.
So I think part of that's a backlash of that. And now in some of these neighborhoods, people are coming home, they're getting off work or they left work and they want to see, you know, the state of their houses, you know, see their belongings and maybe make sure loved ones are still there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that's the school there.
WELSH: I'm seeing a more cars in what used to be these housing additions.
WELSH: What Travis is showing you right now is Plaza Towers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that elementary school, Jon, and looks like they are moving in a bunch of little -- those backboards.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. That's the -- hang on one second.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sure. You go right ahead.
Lance West is there on the scene. I'm trying to see if we can see him from this vantage point.
If you were with us about 11 minutes ago, when we talked to Lance, he said that the authorities are there, search-and-rescue crews had set up that he yellow tape. You see it there at the bottom of the screen. They had cordoned off the area to keep parents and others back, so that they could hear if there were any cries for help from faculty or students believed to be trapped in that rubble.
Lance West told us previously that one of the rescuers on the scene indicated 75 children and/or faculty could have been in the school when the twister hit. Lance also said that third graders were in a hall where they sought cover, and the third grade class is now the focus of much of this investigation and much of this search right now. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And he also told us many of the fourth, fifth, and sixth graders, we believe, were let out and were OK at a church there. But, of course, our concerns right now are for those little ones that may be trapped in there.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And they were let out before the storm hit.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's what we understand.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They were moved to another location before the storm hit the school.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, our concern right now is for the children and faculty who may still be under that rubble.
And as -- if we can go back to Lance. And I don't know. Irish Stogner is producing for us right now. She may be able to contact him. And if so, we'd like to know where he is so that we can zoom on him to show on Chopper 4 to show what his perspective is of that scene, because we have been going to him live.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's down there somewhere getting information.
But, again, he may have been moved back, Linda, beyond those yellow lines there. So, he is just getting -- he may be just getting information and what they are telling him right now, not getting firsthand stuff. The information relays between different emergency agencies, and that's what sometimes takes so long.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lance, we're right over the scene right now. Can you describe to us where you are?
WEST: Yes, I see Bob Moore Chopper 4.
It is to the west of me, and I am standing where a whole bunch of folks are gathered. They are bringing out some boards, some stretchers, what looks to be like an all-out effort here momentarily. The National Guard has arrived.
I do have reason to believe that they have found some victims. I asked -- excuse me. I asked one of the medics if he could confirm -- he just put his head down and said, I can't answer that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Well, there's so much raw emotion out there right now.
And as we said earlier, when you actually are on the scene itself, because we have all covered these before, through the prism of television, it's not like it is when you're on the scene and you're seeing the anguish of the parents and of the rescuers and of little ones being pulled out. And it's a very, very tough job. Lance is doing a great job of it right now.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And of course we're focused right now on Plaza Towers Elementary, but keep in mind that this whole section of Moore is very similar to this. If people were not underground, their chances of surviving this storm were not in their best interests.
It was a horrific storm. Mike Morgan says that, in his opinion, it was three times more intense than that tornado that struck this same general area May 3, 1999. He said this storm was 20 miles long, two-and-a-half miles wide in terms of the debris ball as it moved through this area.
He believes it will probably be designated an F-4 or an F-5 tornado. And if you look at the damage that we're even seeing from this distance, there's no doubt in your mind that this storm was horrific.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely.
As we continue to look at Jon's shot there from Boob Moore, Chopper 4, Travis Shutton (ph) is in the -- running the camera for him, again, tonight, as he was last night.
Let's talk to Ali Meyer, who's on the phone. We will continue to show you the rescue effort here. But Ali is at Eastern and I-240.
We're worried about first-responders being able to get in, Ali. What are you seeing right now? Are they able to get where they need to go?
ALI MEYER, KFOR REPORTER: Yes, Linda and Kevin.
I'm quite a bit further north from where Lance and the chopper is. I was on I-35 Southbound. And what they have done is they have shut down I-35 Southbound traffic at I-240. They are diverting all I- 35 Southbound traffic to I-40 east or westbound. They have reserved those lanes, all four lanes of Southbound I-35 traffic for first- responders only.
And I can tell you that those lanes are being used right now. I saw the Edmond Fire Department, their large semitruck ready of -- full of equipment headed southbound, Midwest City ambulance, Edmond Fire Department, OHP, and countless other agencies, screaming lights and sirens going, headed southbound to the Moore area.
Unfortunately, I just saw one northbound ambulance with lights and sirens running. There aren't a lot of ambulances coming out with victims. I assume they would be heading to O.U. Medical Center for the most critical injuries anyway, but a lot of southbound first- responder traffic on I-35.
Of course, you know they are going to have a lot of trouble once they get off I-35 and get into those areas of most serious damage, but for right now, I-35 traffic, if you're headed to Norman or south of Oklahoma City, I-35 Southbound is not an open road for you right now. They are reserving those lanes for first-responder traffic only.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And, Ali, as you describe what is going on there, let me interject here that when we talked to Betsy Randolph from the Oklahoma Highway Patrol about 35 minutes ago, she said it's an all-call for first-responders in Moore, Oklahoma.
So, if you're at home watching this and you have the abilities, and the talents, and the knowledge to be of help in this area and if you are authorized to be a first-responder, we ask that you move to that area immediately to help in whatever way you can.
Now, we have been focused here for quite some time on Plaza Towers Elementary. This is only one part of a very devastated city. We're there at this moment because of the hope that more children will come out of that school alive. But there are injuries throughout the city.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are injuries, and I just received an injury update. Now, this is very preliminary, of course, but at Integris Southwest, they have -- are treating a total of 19 right now, seven in critical condition, seven serious condition. Five are fair or good condition.
One of the 19 is a child and we're not sure what condition that child is in, but, again, seven critical, seven serious, five fair or good right now. And we expect those numbers, of course, unfortunately, to go up.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And as we talked, as I recall talking to doctors after the May 3, 1999, tornado struck this same area of Moore, most of the damages and most of the injuries that they are treating in the emergency rooms are puncture injuries...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, flying debris.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... from debris that's falling -- been flying in the area, sometimes propelled at speeds of 150 miles an hour.
Talking about nails. You're talking about boards. You're talking about any type of metal that has come loose from these buildings that's now become shrapnel and a million knives flying through the air.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just so many lacerations and other more ghastly injuries from these kind of things. People do survive, but they live with these injuries from now on.
Let's go back to Jon Welsh in Bob Moore Chopper 4. Jon, I know you're navigating with a lot of other traffic up there right now, but the situation from where you see it. I know it's very early in the search-and-rescue, but are you seeing anything, anything that -- any shred of daylight, any shred of hope out there for those worried about loved ones?
WELSH: You know, we're showing you the Plaza Towers schools right now, and we do have a lot of rescue crews in there and they have, it looks like some axes and some other stuff that they are trying to just break through this debris.
As you can see, that whole back of the school is just kind of pushed around to the front. So there's a lot of guys in there and they are trying to pull a lot -- or they're trying to get some stuff out, but as far as seeing people walk out or seeing -- bring anything out, Kevin, we're not seeing anything.
But, you know, again, we're staying right here. There's a lot of traffic. It's picking up in the neighborhoods, that people are coming home and lacking at their -- obviously at the destruction to their homes and all their property there. But that -- OHP's on scene. They have both their helicopters doing a great job. They pick up spotters to help search for people on the ground.
We're up here higher at 3,500 feet zooming, using our camera, the lens to try and help out. I have asked them, hey, if you guys have any areas that you want people to look or that you want us to kind of consolidate our efforts on, just let us know, so that we can kind of really help everybody out.
That's the name of this game. I don't really care about people seeing pictures of it. My goal right now is try and help find people in the rubble. So, that's what we're trying to do here. The damage is very severe. And this is nothing like I have ever seen before, Kevin.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And, Jon Welsh, to that end, we're trying to provide people with all the...
BLITZER: All right, so there you see what's going on at the Plaza Towers Elementary School on the right, what it used to look like, on the left, live pictures of the devastation, the destruction.
This is a school, pre-K through sixth grade. Approximately 500 kids go to this school. And we don't know what's going on underneath that rubble. We do know that a major search-and-rescue operation is under way right now.
These are -- mostly they're looking, we're told, for third graders who were not removed before this tornado hit Moore, Oklahoma, which is literally just outside of Oklahoma City, a major city in the Midwest.
I want to show our viewers some of the pictures. If you take a look, you can see some of the knapsacks that were hanging if you look up there near the right. There it is near the right-hand part of your screen. They were just there as this tornado, an EF-4, we're told now by the National Weather Service, with speeds of 166 to 200 miles per hour -- it ripped through this area of Moore, Oklahoma, right outside of Oklahoma City, and literally leveled, leveled this elementary school, the Plaza Towers Elementary School. This is what it used to look like and this is what it looks like right now.
Nick Valencia is on the scene for us in Moore, Oklahoma.
You're not very far away, Nick. Tell our viewers what you're seeing.
NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Wolf, actually, we're right in the strike zone. Less than a half mile away, I can see smoke billowing.
When we pulled up on the scene with our crew, the young man and his friend looking for a lost loved one. He couldn't even find his house, Wolf. It had been completed blown away.
I'm looking at devastation as far as my eyes can see. It appears as though there may be people on the second floor of a house. It looks as though they may be trapped there.
It's looking really bad out here. First responders, sirens wailing, the fire trucks. On our way here, we had to take the back roads. Some of the roads were flooded out. I-35, of course, as we've been reporting, has also been closed. We had to snake through and sort of cut through the Moore Cemetery. And that's where we're at. We're right on the edge of the Moore Cemetery. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
BLITZER: I think our connection with Nick is breaking up...
VALENCIA: ... trees, just it looks very bad here. I'm sorry, I can't hear you very well. There's first responder helicopters, as well, hovering right now overhead. There's people running through the streets right now just looking for their loved ones, for their homes, for their possessions. I'm looking at somebody right now running towards me. I'm not quite sure where he's going, but the neighborhood is not standing anymore, Wolf. It's completely gone.
BLITZER: And the pictures we're showing our viewers, Nick, right now, what used to be a beautiful little elementary school in Moore, Oklahoma, the Plaza Towers Elementary School. Obviously, leveled by this EF-4 tornado that ripped through this part of the Oklahoma City metropolitan area.
Moore is right outside of Oklahoma City. You see rescue workers on the scene right now. The National Guard of Oklahoma has been activated. More and more rescue workers are on the way right now. They're trying to find survivors. They're especially looking underneath the rubble for third graders who may have been trapped at this elementary school, the Plaza Towers Elementary School.
This is an awful, awful situation that we're seeing unfold right now. God only knows what's going on there, and it's only one small area of a huge part of the metropolitan area -- metropolitan area that has been devastated in Oklahoma City.
Let's listen in to KFOR, once again, our affiliate.
JESSE WELLS, KFOR REPORTER: ... on their foundation. Again, just a couple of minutes ago, walked down to Plaza Towers Elementary. I know people are very curious about that. We talked to a couple of kids, actually, on our way down. They said they were inside the school when the tornado hit. They said that they were literally being told to hang onto the walls of the interior of that school when the tornado was overhead.
A very sad, very sad story. Obviously, one -- one of the people we talked to said that a teacher was actually on top, laying on top of three elementary school kids. That teacher was in very, very bad shape. Personally, he didn't think that this person was going to make it through the storm, but again, one teacher laying on top of three kids, trying to protect them from the debris.
I can tell you right now, Plaza Towers Elementary, as you've seen from the air, is basically gone. I mean, most of the walls are destroyed. There are cars that were tossed into the front of that where the office building is. There's now a car, a Dodge Durango actually, sitting in the front of the school where the office is.
Again, right now we cannot get our live truck back into that scene. Hopefully, in the next couple of minutes we may be able to.
The streets have started to clear up a little bit as people were coming into this area just nonstop, complete gridlock just about an hour ago. Now it's gotten a little bit better.
Right now, again, search-and-rescue operations are continuing over at the school building. I don't know for sure how many kids have been taken out of that school. I can tell you a number of kids were taken out, although when we were out there, there were still rescue crews that were out on scene attempting to get kids. The last information I heard from scene just about five minutes ago, they said there may have been kids that were trapped towards the back of the school in the basement area. Again, right now I don't know how many kids were still in that school, how many got out of the school.
But again, we know some of the kids, obviously, got out of that school, because again, we talked to a couple of them. So that some of those kids were safe, escaped injury. Some of the teachers, doing their very best trying to protect those kids, may have been severely injured, maybe even killed in this storm.
Again, it's really indescribable when you look around. You do, literally, 360 degrees, everywhere you look, total devastation in this area. We'll try to have much more at this continues. Back to you guys.
LINDA CAVANAUGH, KFOR ANCHOR: Jesse, you have to talk to us about those kids who got out. Now where were they that they could possibly have gotten out of that debris? Oh, he...
KENT OGLE, KFOR ANCHOR: He can't hear.
WELLS: Kids said that they were actually told to go into the hallways outside of their classrooms, and they were literally hugging the sides of the walls as that tornado was overhead, ripping the school apart. They were in the hallways outside their classrooms, hugging the walls.
Again, teachers laying on top of some of those kids as debris was coming into that school. Absolutely indescribable scene. I cannot imagine what it was like for some of those little kids, just young kids, second, third, fourth grade kids that were in that school at the time.
But again, some of them have gotten out, but as we were on scene, there were rescue crews that were asking us if we knew if there were kids still inside. I didn't know. They were asking people that were in that area. They said they were in the -- they thought they were in the back. In the basement area, there may have still been kids, rescue crews going in there, digging in the back of that school. As you've seen, I mean, there is not much left on that school. So again, it's amazing that anybody got out, but it appears some have. I don't know how many haven't. We'll have to wait and see.
CAVANAUGH: Jesse Wells reporting live from Southwest Eighth and Ridgeway. We're going to go back to Lance West here in just a moment.
We had indicated before that they needed first responders to come down to that area. We're now being told that they ask that you delay that right now. They've got more than they can handle in terms of trying to coordinate the people who are there. So again, if you're watching and then plan to go down to Moore to help, do not do that at this time. If they need additional help, we'll let you know. But again, do not go to Moore at this time to try to help. They are asking that you not come into that area.
OGLE: Let me give you an update real quick that was just handed to me. Some students, at least 15 from Briarwood Elementary -- Remember, that was another one that was hit, Briarwood -- at least 15 students are at 15613 -- 15613 Vicki (ph) Drive, 15613 Vicki (ph) Drive. At least 15 of those students from Briarwood School are at that location. So, if you have students or loved ones involved in that school, 15613 Vicki (ph) Drive is where you need to go if you want to try and find them, if you can get there.
CAVANAUGH: Of course, the problem is unless they're already in the Moore area, you're not going to be able to get in...
CAVANAUGH: ... because they've shut it off to most traffic. Let's go back to Lance West, who is at Plaza Towers Elementary. Lance, do you have any additional information?
LANCE WEST, KFOR REPORTER (via phone): Yes, I'm just outside the yellow tape. I can tell you that Edmond Search and Rescue have joined the effort, along with several other personnel. They've brought a dog in, getting ready to do some search-and-rescue operations.
It does look like they've taken some backboards up to the pile of debris. I've seen firefighters sort of huddled over this mountain of metal and cinderblock. And it looks, from my perspective, like they may be communicating with someone. If there is a victim under that rubble, they haven't been able to reach them yet, but it looks from this vantage point like they may be talking to someone trapped in the debris. So that's certainly an encouraging sign. It is right near that wall that Jesse Wells had referred to where the kids were supposed to have taken refuge from the storm. And it's right in that general vicinity. So this may be some encouraging news.
I should also mention that right across the street there is a home where about 15 minutes ago some folks out here heard some cries for help. And there are probably 50 people right now on hands and knees, pulling away boards and debris in hopes of finding that person alive. It was about 15 minutes ago we were over there checking out the situation, and they say they heard some cries for help.
We don't have an update on that, but people in that direction right now, it looks like they're still there; they're still picking away boards. Again, that's an encouraging sign.
So that's the status right now as far as the search-and-rescue efforts go. We can tell you that, since I arrived here -- gosh, I guess it's been about an hour, an hour and a half ago -- they have not pulled anyone out from the school. Early on when we arrived, there was a little boy, probably 8 years old and a schoolteacher. They have been taken to a hospital.
I spoke to two other teachers who were also inside the school. They are OK, other than some bumps and bruises. And we do know that fourth, fifth, and sixth graders have been taken to a nearby church, and they have all been accounted for, as well. They're doing a head count right now to find out just exactly how many people may still be trapped in the school.
CAVANAUGH: Lance West, thank you very much. And of course, there are relatives around the nation who are watching live coverage, wondering about loved ones in Oklahoma. We're attempting to get as much information accurately to you as possible.
OGLE: Our folks on the ground will do that. They're very good at that. Let's go back to Mike, because we still do have storms here in Oklahoma -- Mike.
MIKE MORGAN, KFOR METEOROLOGIST: And Kent and Linda, I do want to -- I do want to reassure folks that we are tracking everything back here. We have Reed Timmer (ph) out. We have four trackers out right now, and we are here with you during this coverage of the destruction down in Moore. We are not -- we are plugged in completely. I can guarantee you. If anything, we...
BLITZER: All right, you're looking at these live pictures, thanks to our excellent affiliate, KFOR, in Oklahoma City. You're looking at search-and-rescue workers. They're trying to recover anyone who may be trapped underneath the rubble.
This is the Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma. That's a suburb of Oklahoma City. There were, used to be, about 500 kids, students on that school, pre-K through sixth grade. We know some third graders were stuck there. We're hoping they're OK, but you see those rescue workers working feverishly to come up with some, hopefully, some rescues.
Not far away, Briarwood Elementary School in Oklahoma City itself, that was hit by this tornado. An EF-4 tornado. That's the preliminary rating of this tornado, EF-4. That corresponds with 166 to 200 miles per hour. And this was a huge tornado, about two miles wide.
Chad Myers is watching all of this.
And Chad, you know this area well. You worked in Oklahoma and not that long ago.
CHAD MYERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I did. And to see the damage and the destruction of a school like that. And then as the camera pans over to the neighborhood -- and I know we're focused on the school and how bad it was damaged -- but when he pans just 100 yards right or left, you see homes that are almost not there. They don't exist.
So this school, although taking a direct hit, actually at least has some walls standing. The homes very close have nothing standing.
Something else I've noticed, almost scoured the landscape. The grass around the school is gone. The trees are gone. There's nothing left except mud. This had such scour power, literally, that it would take all of the knives and the shakes and the shingles around and scour the landscapes, take the dirt right away and suck it up into this storm, creating all of that debris.
This is going to take a very long time. And I know we're focused on a couple of schools, but there are so many homes. We haven't shown them, but there are a thousand homes that look just like this that must have people trapped inside. This is going to be a long recovery for the people of Moore.
Couple things I want to get to you. Henrietta, Texas, just to the east, I want you taking cover. There is still a tornado on the ground with the storm here. There is a tornado possibly here to the southwest of Dallas-Fort Worth, that's Comanche, Texas. And the storms aren't lined up yet.
We talked to Mr. Bunting from the National Severe Storms Forecast Center, and he talked about how, when the storms are alone -- just like that alone, or here alone, they can spin like a basketball. But when they begin to line up, they don't spin. they just cause wind damage. It's the spin that we're worried about. You're not that far from St. Louis. St. Louis, the city, you were just put under a tornado watch, which means that you need to watch out. Any storm approaching your city could have a tornado in it tonight. Although it's getting dark, it's getting cooler, it's not over. This storm system will continue well into the overnight hours. Those are the dangerous hours. Make sure your NOAA weather radio is on tonight.
BLITZER: As you know, it's going to be dark there in Oklahoma City and Moore, the metropolitan area, pretty soon. That's going to make the search-and-rescue operation even more complicated.
As much as folks want to go there and help, we're told from the city of Moore to not drive into the damaged areas. They say, quote, "Our emergency personnel will need access to help victims. If you are not injured, please, do not call into 911. We need the lines for injuries."
BLITZER: We're also told President Obama has been informed of what's going on. He and his top homeland security advisers through FEMA, they're monitoring the situation. They're receiving updates.
Chad, you're getting more information?
MYERS: Wolf, something that happens when this type of event occurs in a city is that cell-phone towers literally don't work, and everyone's trying to call everyone. The best thing you can do to try to get ahold of someone at this point is to try to text them. And then, when a small nanosecond opens up on a cell tower, that text will go through. The receiver will get that text and then be able to text you back. Making phone calls ties up a lot of power. Text if you can.
BLITZER: Thank you for that. Tom Foreman is taking a look at the path of this devastating storm.
Tom, what are you seeing?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, to put context to what Chad just said, it's important (ph). Look, here's Oklahoma City right in the middle of the state here. If you move in, you can see the area we're talking about.
We've heard a lot of talk about I-35. That's right over here. And this has turned into an absolute choke point. Nobody can come through here. And the reason is quite simple, because this is the fundamental area in which we can see all of this damage. If you trace all these photographs and you match it up to the map, this is what was hit. Moore Medical Center up here, out of commission. The theater, all these shopping areas hit, all these homes here.
Here is Plaza Elementary School in the middle of all this. This is where we've seen that tremendous amount of damage that has taken place. And if you look at it, you can see that this was the school before. This is the school after, as we've seen so many times.
As Chad noted -- and I really want to stress this, Wolf -- if you look at the damage through here, there's a tremendous amount of damage to these homes. And to have a point of reference, this distance from here to here is about a mile and about a mile over here. In this one block area here are about 1,200 homes around Plaza Elementary School.
You go over here, Briarwood Elementary, this neighborhood over here, you pick up about another 600 homes. We counted these on the satellite image. You move over this way, you've got another 500 homes over here and then about another 1,200 over in this block, over here.
So you can see how very quickly, Wolf, you reach about 3,500 homes that seem to be absolutely in the area that was just ripped apart by this storm, going right through here. All indications are the heaviest damage is in through here, and as I said, about 4,500 (ph) homes. There's going to be a lot of digging out and a lot of assessment of the damage over the next 24 hours.
BLITZER: That search-and-rescue operation, as we can see, Tom, already intense. And as you give us good perspective, this is a pretty populated area, pretty densely populated area, one of the major suburbs of Oklahoma City; really, literally touching Oklahoma City.
FOREMAN: Absolutely. This is a suburban area that has -- if you were to go driving down the street before the storm, what you would see down this street is all sorts of popular restaurants and hotels and shopping centers. This is a Lowe's over here. There's a post office up here. There's a bowling place here. This is the movie theater, as we mentioned, all of this.
That reporter who mentioned a while ago being in the cemetery, the cemetery is right here. So he was right at the epicenter of this damage, because as you know, the school is right over here.
So, this is an area that is absolutely the heart of suburban America. Lots of people living in there. Lots of services in here. As we mentioned, there's already a choke point over here. It's going to be a real challenge for people there, as it always is in such circumstances, to simply keep these arteries open to keep help flowing in and out and helping parents find their children, helping people who need help get out -- Wolf.
BLITZER: On the left part of the screen, Tom, we're showing our viewers -- there it is -- these are live pictures coming in from our affiliate, KFOR. The Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma, one of the major suburbs of Oklahoma City, we see search- and-rescue workers there; they are on the scene. They're looking for survivors. They're looking for kids.
This is a school of approximately 500 students from last year. That's the number of kids that were there, plus educators and administrators. This is a school that, literally, has been leveled, as you can see, as a result of this tornado. An EF-4, with speeds, a preliminary rating 166 to 200 miles per hour ripping through this area. This is an -- this is an area that has been devastated, hundreds of homes ripped apart, as well.
Nick Valencia is on the scene for us in Moore, Oklahoma. Nick, where are you; what are you seeing?
VALENCIA: Wolf, we're about two blocks away from the elementary school that was reportedly hit hard by the tornado. We're seeing more and more people trying to sift through the rubble, sift through the debris. They are looking very dazed and confused, some of them wandering sort of aimlessly.
But the devastation, the destruction is as bad as it looks in the pictures. Our team was at the hotel watching the tornado develop. And we got on the road as soon as we could. We got here, in fact, Wolf, even before some of the first responders. We hear sirens wailing. I could see an ambulance probably about maybe 300 or 400 yards away from where I'm standing, and as far as my eyes can see, the homes are demolished.
There's debris everywhere. Chimneys cracked, houses ripped apart, the outsides of the homes completely leveled. Telephone poles slanted, split in half. Cars, windows broken out, cars stalled. Residents just trying to look for their loved ones.
I mentioned to you earlier when we first got on the scene, Wolf, there was a group of about five or six young men running through the debris, calling out the names of their loved ones. We tried to talk to them. They were, obviously, not very much, though, in a position to want to talk. They couldn't even find their home. They were looking for their home, and they couldn't even find it. It had been blown away.
Right now I'm looking at a dog that seems to be just sort of wandering around looking for its owner. Things look really bad here right now, Wolf.
BLITZER: We're told that the Oklahoma University Medical Center, Nick, has 20 patients already have been admitted. Adults and children, especially those included in the trauma unit. We're only just beginning to get the -- the extent of the casualties from this tornado.
Let's listen into the chopper pilot from KFOR.
JON WELSH, KFOR CHOPPER PILOT: And the debris is somewhere northeast of here.
CAVANAUGH: Jon, what I'm going to ask you to do, if you don't mind -- you did this for us about an hour ago. But we've had so many more people join us. Could you please go back to where the twister entered Moore, Oklahoma, and follow-through and describe to us what you are seeing so that people understand the devastation that we're looking at? Mike Morgan says that he estimates 30 square miles of devastation from this tornado that hit Moore earlier this afternoon.
OGLE: And we'll continue to follow Lance West's report from the school while do you that, Jon.
WELSH: Back out and go to your left. OK. We're going to go to our left, and you can kind of see just the scouring of the earth. All you're seeing is just dirt. We'll keep going to the left past the Orr (ph) family farm and we'll kind of pick it up right there about -- from this distance it will be I-44 and the river. So let me see here.
CAVANAUGH: Now you're on the west -- you're on the west side of Moore?
WELSH: Yes. I'm on west side of Moore. We'll go the damage path. So we'll kind of zoom in. We'll follow you. We'll bring this here so we're going to -- we're crossing -- you know, we're crossing the land here. We're coming up on -- what's that? -- May and then the next intersection is going to be Penn. After that, we're going to follow -- we're going to cross the Orr (ph) family farm here.
You'll back out just a little bit, Travis. And keep coming to the right. When Tony Beverly (ph) reported earlier, he was reporting from right there the...
CAVANAUGH: We're starting to lose Jon a little bit. But what he's showing you is the path of this storm as it moved through Moore, Oklahoma, earlier this afternoon. Thirty square miles of devastation believed to be, estimated by Mike Morgan, our meteorologist.
The death toll that we know so far are four confirmed deaths. We got those from Meg Alexander, because she was there as they began pulling those bodies out. She said it was a man's body, a woman's and a 7-month-old baby, and truthfully, my notes don't indicate who the fourth person may have been. But at least four fatalities so far in Moore, Oklahoma.
OGLE: Let's take it down to the ground in that heavy-hit there at ground zero, unfortunately, in Moore with Jesse Wells, our reporter on the scene there now -- Jesse.
WELLS: OK. But I'm standing here at the corner of Eagle and Southwest Eleventh. We've been talking about Plaza Towers Elementary at lot. We've seen it from the air. This it is, right here behind me. As I step out of the way and let Joe zoom in. This is the front of Plaza Towers Elementary School. We can see it -- again, we've said it before from the air. This school is basically gone. It's totally destroyed. Most of the walls collapsed, as you can see. There's a number of cars that were thrown into the front of this building. There's actually an office on the very front of the school. There's a truck, an SUV of some kind got thrown into the front of that school.
Over here just to the south, they've been -- emergency crews have beencontinuing to work on kids getting out of this school building. Again, I told you a few minutes ago, I talked to a couple of kids that were in this school at the time. They were literally hugging the walls of the interior hallways as that tornado went overhead, trying to survive. They were being protected by some of the teachers that worked in this school building.
Again, right now I do not know how many kids were inside or are still inside. Again, apparently, there may still be kids inside the school. We really don't know the information. Very sparse coming out from down here.
But again, you can see the search-and-rescue crews continuing to treat the kids that were in this school, that search for kids, that there may still be kids inside.
And honestly, it's not, of course, just the schools that got hit as we pan around a little bit further, you'll be able to see that all around, 360 degrees around where I'm standing, all the homes literally leveled to the ground.
Again, right now very chaotic scene. People just trying to search through a lot of these homes. Honestly, it's a search-and- rescue operation out here for a lot of folks if they have loved ones, if they have friends and they haven't heard from them. They're out here looking around, trying to find out if their family members are still alive. It's really indescribable, when you look around...
BLITZER: All right. We're going to continue to monitor what's going on. CNN's live coverage of these devastating tornadoes in Oklahoma will continue right after these messages. We'll have the very latest on the school leveled by the tornado.
BLITZER: We're getting the first confirmation of fatalities in this devastating tornado that ripped through parts of metropolitan Oklahoma City. Six deaths. Those are the first confirmed fatalities according to the office of the chief medical officer in the area. Six fatalities. A lot of people have been injured.
Those are live pictures you're seeing, thanks to our affiliate KFOR, on the left part of your screen. That's from the Plaza Towers Elementary School, where a major, major search-and-rescue operation is under way right now.
This is in Moore, Oklahoma, right outside of Oklahoma City. This was an elementary school, pre-k through sixth grade, of about 500 kids. And educators, students, they're looking for survivors, especially, we're told, third graders who may not have been able to leave the school before that tornado ripped this area.
And if you go further out from this little school, this Plaza Towers Elementary School, there are literally hundreds of homes that have been leveled as a result of this tornado. And not very far away another elementary school, the Briarwood Elementary School in Oklahoma City, right in Oklahoma City. Moore, Oklahoma, is outside of Oklahoma City, another pre-k through sixth grade elementary schooled ripped apart, as well. About 700 children were students in that Briarwood Elementary School.
And you see this going on and on and on. These are heartbreaking developments that we're watching right now. The National Guard has been activated. The president of the United States, through his aides, is telling everyone including the governor of Oklahoma, Mary Fallin, that the president has ordered everyone at FEMA, everyone else in the administration to be available to assist. CNN's live coverage of the devastating tornadoes in Oklahoma continues right now with Erin Burnett. Please stay with CNN for all the latest information. We're going to be live bringing all of the news throughout the night. We will not leave this story; we promise you that. Erin, Anderson Cooper, Piers Morgan, Suzanne Malveaux, they will be anchoring our coverage throughout the night.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.