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Devastating Tornado Hits Oklahoma City Area

Aired May 22, 2013 - 04:00:00   ET


CARL AZUZ, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, I`m Carl Azuz. Welcome to the special edition of CNN STUDENT NEWS. Today, we`re focusing exclusively on the Oklahoma City area and the devastating tornado that tore through there on Monday. This is what we know so far.

The tornado touched down near the town of New Castle, Oklahoma, just before 3 P.M Monday. Residents had about 16 minutes warning before it hit. From there, it moved to the city of Moore. And that`s where the storm did its worst. You can tell from this video, it was gigantic. Officials said it was more than a mile wide, and the path that took across New Castle and Moore was 17 miles long. That path was one of destruction and devastation. Homes and businesses flattened, a local hospital severely damaged, two elementary schools took direct hits. As of today, afternoon, authorities have confirmed dozens of deaths from this tornado including nine children. More than 200 other people were injured. The rescue effort started immediately Monday afternoon and continued through the night.

Pamela Brown has more on that.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Illuminated by flood lights, rescue teams searched tirelessly throughout the night, sifting through mountains of debris where Plaza Towers Elementary School once stood.


BROWN: In some places, the debris was ten feet high, underneath every parent`s worth nightmare, the bodies of schoolchildren who tried to seek shelter from a ferocious tornado, many more still missing.

The race to rescue dozens of students and teachers began right after the massive mile-wide tornado ripped through at least two elementary schools directly in its past. At hardest hit Plaza Towers Elementary, a third grade class huddled in a hallway of their school.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had to pull a car out of the front hallway off a teacher. She -- I don`t know what that lady`s name is, but she had three little kids underneath her. Good job, teach.

BROWN: Worried parents sent to a staging area at the nearby church and search for answers. At first, several children were pulled from the leveled school alive, but with each passing hour the operation tragically went from a rescue to a recovery mission. The heart wrenching reality of the storm`s fury hard to comprehend, even for those covering it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`ve never seen anything like this in my 18 years covering tornadoes here in Oklahoma City. This is without question, that most terrific - I`ve never seen it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, Lance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Listen, we need to get this information.

BROWN: The searchers were able to reunite many kids with their families.


AZUZ: In fact, rescuers have pulled at least 100 people out of the rubble alive. At first, the search efforts were a mix of emergency responders and volunteers. A local pipeline worker who joined in, said he felt it was his duty to help. But eventually, so many volunteers showed up that officials had to ask them to stay away. Police, firefighters, National Guard members, all involved in the search efforts, specially trained animals, too. Chris Cuomo has more on how they helped.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They set up a perimeter here, it`s about six or eight men, inside there are dogs, three or four of them. The dogs are working. They`re sniffing. You hear barking, the barking could be signals, it can just be excitement. The trainers know how to deal with that. And what they do, is they have to follow the dogs through this debris field, and we`re showing you this because it`s very painstaking work. It`s very detailed oriented, and it`s very dangerous, because they have to find their through it. The dogs as well. They, of course, have much more nimble, and are able to make it through very easily, you`re watching Chief, this dog`s name is, right now.


CUOMO: He`s working. He`s packed with this trainer right now. He`s barking, that`s part of his work, just communication between trainer and the dog, doesn`t mean he necessarily found something. But they have to find and follow him all through this, it takes time.

It`s sophisticated work, and it`s dangerous, and there are so much of it to do. Because there are buildings like this that have fallen down all over. As you come into this area here in Moore, Oklahoma, it comes in waves. First, you see debris on the road. Then you start to see that homes have been like sprayed, almost like power-washed with mud. Then you start to see big things are missing: trees, power lines are down. The street lights have stopped, and then everything is gone, and you get to this point.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Moore is just south of Oklahoma City. It`s about 55,000 people, and look at the density of the neighborhood down here. We talked a lot about Plaza Towers Elementary School, look at the school, here, but now look around it in this picture. There are about 350 homes in an easy walking distance to that school. And they were all subjected to the same type of forces the storm came through. Look what it did. Here`s the school before the storm hit, here it that same school afterward.

A quarter-mile to a half-mile away, here`s the medical center, which was also shut down devastated by this storm, and just south of that, look at the theater down here, a popular gathering place. Beforehand it was much different than it was afterward. Clean and pristine, afterward, like the medical center, smashed to pieces. This is important because those are samples all within the center of this path, which seemed to have been added strongest right through here, about a mile wide, side to side, that`s where this storm came ripping through and by our estimate, there are at least 5,000 homes in this immediate most intense part of where the storm hit. Not counting all the many, many thousands more before and after.


AZUZ: Whether it`s hurricanes along the East Coast, tornadoes in the Midwest or earthquakes on the West Coast, you know that different kinds of severe weather have different rating systems. For tornadoes, scientists used the enhanced Fujita scale. It measures the storms wind`s speed based on how much damage it causes. Experts say, there is evidence that this tornado at some point got up to an EF5.

Chad Myers explains what that means in terms of damage and more on the science behind these storms.


CHAD MYERS, METEOROLOGIST: All you need for a tornado really to form, though, are thunderstorms and a jet stream, that jet streams aloft, it makes the energy, if you have moisture at the surface, dry air, cold air pushing that moisture up, you can get a tornado to form in any state.

We have this - this almost as triangulation that no other country in the world, no region in the world has. We have the Rocky Mountains to our west, we have the Gulf of Mexico in our South, we have Canada and very cold air masses coming down from the north. All of those things combined make tornado alley.

So now that EF scale, Enhanced Fujita scale starts at zero, goes only to five, anything above 200 miles per hour is considered an EF5 tornado. And EF4, most of the home is gone, but you`ll still see the refrigerator, you`ll still see a closet, and you`ll still see the bathroom. And EF5 you cannot find the house, it`s completely gone.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: If there`s hope to hold on to, not just in Oklahoma, but around the country, it`s the knowledge that the good people there and in Oklahoma are better prepared for this type of storm, and most, and what they can be certain of is that Americans from every corner of this country will be right there with them, opening our homes, our hearts to those in need because we are a nation that stands with our fellow citizens.


AZUZ: President Obama declared a disaster in Oklahoma. That helps make federal funding available for recovery efforts. Two years ago today, an EF5 tornado hit Joplin, Missouri. It was the single deadliest tornado in more than 60 years. Joplin city manager knows what Oklahoma can expect.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They have friends out there that are going to help - they are going to need some assistance from other in the nearby area throughout the country, and throughout the world, and we`re ready to respond and help them to whatever really we can and whatever assistance they need.


AZUZ: Supporters coming in from the sport`s world: baseball star and Oklahoma native Matt Kemp says he`s donating $1000 for every home run he hits. NBA all start Kevin Durant pledged a million dollars. His team, the Oklahoma City Thunder said it would give a million dollars as well. There are a number of organizations either headed to Moore or already there: churches, medical teams, food banks. If you`re looking for ways to help, one place to start is It has links to the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, Team Rubicon, World Vision, plus a lot more groups that are sending crews and accepting donations. That link again,

And if you`d like to write about what you`ve seen in our show or the news of this disaster in general, we have a blog post set up at

In the middle of the destruction, in the start of a long road to recovery, there were signs of hope and unity in Oklahoma. Like this American flag, that a group of Navy reservists raised over some of the debris. Oklahoma`s Lieutenant Governor said "We`re a tough state, this is a tough community, there is hope, we always have hope, we always have faith."

Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of the storm as well. For CNN STUDENT NEWS, I`m Carl Azuz. Thank you for watching.