Return to Transcripts main page

Breaking News

At Least 51 Dead After Massive Oklahoma Tornado; Interview with Moore's Mayor; Interview with Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb; Interview with Rep. James Lankford

Aired May 20, 2013 - 23:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: The latest on the devastating storm, our coverage continues now with Erin Burnett.


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, we have breaking news. At least 51 people are dead after a massive tornado tore through Oklahoma City earlier today.


BURNETT (voice-over): Among the dead, as we can tell you live at this hour, are at least 20 children. The state's chief medical examiner says those numbers are expected to rise in this tragedy. At least 145 people have been hospitalized as well.

You're looking at pictures of what it looked like after the two-mile- wide tornado with winds of up to 200 mph just struck this suburb of Oklahoma City, flattening two schools, an untold number of homes and businesses now gone. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin said it's a horrible day for her state.

GOV. MARY FALLIN, OKLAHOMA: I know that there are families wondering where their loved ones are.

And right now, we're going to do everything we can as a state to get as much emergency personnel, state agencies, all the different charities that are out, in doing search and rescue efforts, trying to make sure that we have looked under every single piece of debris and every single building 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.

BURNETT: Now, this is all that is left tonight of the Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma. Now, we can tell you at this hour at least seven students there were killed, 24 right now are missing as crews are trying to find them.

Obviously, it is now under darkness in Oklahoma. Our affiliate KFOR is reporting there were 75 students in that school. They were kindergarten, about aged 5 through third grade, 8 years old. And there was also, of course, staff inside the school when the storm hit. A reporter from that station who will be with us later this hour, Scott Hines, described the scene. SCOTT HINES, KFOR: They were found at the bottom of the school in a pool of water, standing water. All of them had drowned. It's likely that there are 20-30 -- and I get a little choked up talking about this. But there are 20-30 more little victims there, children. So that search and rescue mission has now transitioned over to recovery as dusk sets in.

BURNETT (voice-over): Tonight, workers are combing through that rubble, obviously, as you can see, with spotlights, trying to do everything they can. If they can find any of those children alive, we're getting a new look at the breadth and power of this tornado.

We have the cell phone video, as you can see, this is the monumental size. This is from a resident who was standing less than 15 miles south (inaudible) damage. As we're watching this, we can imagine what havoc it was wreaking.

George Howell is in Moore tonight, across the street from the Plaza Towers Elementary School, and that, the horrible tragedy there, unfolding there.

George, obviously, it's dark now. There are still children missing. They're trying to work under spotlights.

What's the latest that you understand?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, yes, you know, it's dark but we continue to see people coming into this area. We see firefighters, we see sheriff's deputies, investigators are still going into that area as the search continues.

And I want to bring Kim Haskett in, because, Kim, you're a nurse.


HOWELL: And talk to us about why you're here and what you've been doing.

HASKETT: I started out over at Warren Theater, where a lot of the damage was. They've set up a triage station with the hospital overflow. So just been helping triage minor injuries. Rebecca has been helping deliver supplies, set up equipment, just anything we can do to help, really.

HOWELL: Rebecca, what's it been like for you? What have you seen/

REBECCA, FIRST RESPONDER: Well, they've had -- Warren, they've had food, water, anything that they need in the Warren (inaudible) structure and all that stuff. So it's safe for anybody to come in there. The bathrooms are down. But, yes, it's a safe place for anybody to come that needs help.

HOWELL: Guys, thank you, (inaudible) another interview, very popular people right now. Thank you so much for taking time with us.

But, again, you're seeing a lot of people coming in to this area. Still, people do want to come in and help in this neighborhood, but they're being turned away. Investigators are telling them that they have an operation underway. They don't need that extra help.

So we are seeing those people from the neighborhood who wanted to help being turned away. But a lot of people still coming in, these investigators, deputies, trying to help.

BURNETT: And, George, do you have any sense as to their hopes at this point? You know we were just talking about -- you know, you heard Scott Hines saying that this has turned into a recovery as opposed to a search and rescue. But for those children in that school, is there still hope for those that are still missing?

HOWELL: You know, you never want to say on that because there are parents who are watching the television, who are trying to talk to the investigators. There's a church nearby, where parents are waiting for any news.

So I wouldn't want to even found a guess on that at this point. We do know, though, that parents are still looking; we know that there are relatives trying to find other relatives out here. I doubt that they'll stop tonight. They're going to keep looking as these investigators keep doing the same.

BURNETT: And we can all just pray for some sort of a miracle there. All right, George Howell, thank you very much. We'll be talking to George later this hour as we set in the field right across from that school.

I want to bring in Glenn Lewis now, the mayor of Moore, Oklahoma.

Mayor Lewis, we're all just so sorry. These pictures are impossible to comprehend for anyone watching.

What are you able to tell us tonight? I know there are still so many people missing. Have you been able to ascertain where people are or how many people do you think are still missing?

MAYOR GLENN LEWIS, MOORE, OKLA.: We have quite a few people. I want to say thank you to the media that you guys have been telling people to stay out is the best thing you can do for us right now. We have search and rescue dogs at the scene at the school. We have just been told that all of the students at Briarwood have been accounted for.

And Briarwood was another school that was hit with Plaza Towers. They are still working over there with lights and rescue dogs to see if there are any survivors in the Plaza Towers. Our hospital has been devastated. We have -- we had a two-story hospital; now we have a one. And it's not occupyable (sic). So it made it difficult for emergency operations.

As you can hear, they're mediflighting someone right now to the hospital. And I may lose you, because my cell phone is just about out of power.

BURNETT: All right, well, let me try to ask you one question before you go, then, Mayor Lewis.

Those children, what can you tell us about the children at Plaza Towers? I know, I mean, how many of them are still missing? And did you think any are still alive?

LEWIS: We don't know yet. Of course, we always hope for the best. We don't know. I can't confirm how many people were even lost over there, how many people are missing at this point. But we're going to continue to look until every person is accounted for.

And it's been a tough day, I can tell you that. We've been through this before, though. We had this on May 3rd, 1999, and I was the mayor then. So my team has experience and they're getting through this.

BURNETT: And, Mayor, is this the worst that you've seen? I mean, I know you are used to this. But what we're seeing and especially with these horrible story of these children?

LEWIS: It's just -- yes, this is the worst. In the May 3rd tornado, which was an F-5 that year, we lost six people during that tornado. And I've just been told that it was over 50 a while ago. I can't confirm that because the state health department hasn't told us officially yet, but I don't know, I hope it's not, but it could be.

The devastation is immense. Most of our big-box retailers are still up and running. Do have a couple of the small shopping centers that were wiped out with this. So we did have five total schools that were in session at the time that were hit.

So -- and we're trying just to make sure that they can finish out the school year in the next 3-4 days and -- of course, there's a couple of the that will not be able to. And then they may cancel school for the whole city; I don't know.

BURNETT: I know, I guess it's a miracle for those schools. Obviously, our prayers are with those families that are waiting for those little children tonight and just hoping that they're able to find some of them alive.

Mayor Lewis, thank you so much for your time.

LEWIS: Thank you. Thank you for calling, appreciate it, bye-bye.

BURNETT: All right. Want to give him a chance to save some of that cell phone battery. As our reporters have been saying, the cell phone service can be incredibly spotty and obviously difficult to get a charge there.

But you heard what Mayor Lewis had to say, that he was the mayor back in 1999, when what was the worst tornado to strike Oklahoma struck. And he said this one, at least, from the way he sees it is worse.

I want to bring in KFOR reporter Scott Hines on the phone from Oklahoma City. Scott, I know you've also covered a lot of tornadoes and know that area so well. You heard what the mayor just had to say. Do you also think this is the worst that you've ever seen?

HINES (via telephone): Yes, by far. Yes, this is utter destruction that we've never experienced, in Oklahoma. I think you know Oklahoma is known as Tornado Alley. At this hour, 51 confirmed deaths is what we're hearing from the medical examiner's office. At least 20 children dead and more than 230 confirmed injuries. Many of those injuries, puncture injuries from debris flying through the air.

We know that six medical centers in the area are treating patients. Earlier, OU Medical Center, one of our larger medical centers was under a code EMO because of the high number of fatalities. We know they treated 65 patients, 20 adults and many of those children, 45 children.

So that's what makes this even more heart-wrenching, gut-wrenching, that so many children, it appears, either lost their life or been injured. People are wandering around like zombies. It's like they're not realizing how to process what has just happened.

And I heard, it might have been our chief meteorologist or someone in the newsroom, saying that they believe this is the worst tragedy since the Oklahoma City bombing, you know, back in 1995. And there were many children that died in that day care that was located inside the Federal Building.