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Nightmare Tornado in Oklahoma; Search and Rescue in Oklahoma; Oklahoma Tornado Kills Dozens

Aired May 21, 2013 - 02:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's completely destroyed. The houses are destroyed. They are completely leveled.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: The death toll from Monday's tornado in a suburb. This is just south of Oklahoma City. It now appears to be increasing dramatically, the sad news. The Oklahoma Medical Examiner's Office has been told to expect about 40 additional bodies. That would bring the number to people killed in the storm to about 91, making it one of the worst tornadoes in America in recent memory. And the threat of more storms from this nasty system in Tornado Valley is not yet over.

Welcome to our live continuing coverage of the Oklahoma tornadoes. I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

And we welcome our viewers around the world. I'm Jonathan Mann.

It has been 10 hours now since we first saw the monster tornado touched down south of Oklahoma City. The images. Have a look. Heart-breaking. An estimated 30 square miles are in ruins. And we're hearing incredible stories of bravery, too, though, and survival.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Those teachers in the hospital. Those teachers saved his life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who's his teacher?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mrs. Lowe (ph). I have no doubt that God -- those teachers. I mean, they lifted a wall off of these kids. Several kids.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was the wall on your son?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fine. Has got a little scratch on his leg.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi. How scary was that?


MALVEAUX: Just listen to that. You can hear it. It is that eerie howl. This is what many witnesses described the pressure that's so intense that their ears were popping.

The National Weather Service has given the tornado a preliminary rating of EF-4. That means it is the second highest level a tornado can be with winds between 166 and 200 miles per hour. Just unbelievable.

MANN: And it's a parent's worst nightmare. Two elementary schools directly in the tornado's path in Moore, Oklahoma. Both of those schools flattened. Have a look. Aerial images taken when it was still daylight out. This is all that's left of Plaza Towers Elementary School. Police say the bodies of seven children were pulled from the rubble there and rescuers are searching, searching right now, through the night, for -- there may be as many as 24 children still unaccounted for. Some apparently have been found in nearby shelters but no one is quite sure what is there under the debris.

Students who were able to get out safe, they clung to the walls as the tornado passed over their heads.

MALVEAUX: We can only imagine the kind of experience, what they were feeling and hearing at the time. And one of these students inside that school, that elementary school that was hit by the tornado describes what happened inside the classroom.

This is Brady. He's just in the sixth grade.


BRADY, SIXTH GRADE STUDENT: I was in my classroom building, and we were told to get in our tornado precaution systems. But -- then they moved us to the -- to the boys' and girls' bathroom. And then some kids were not following directions of staying away from under the -- 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.


MALVEAUX: He's a brave little boy there. I mean, you know, talk about following instructions. They've done this from time and time again. But then he is describing cinder blocks on top of some of his friends. I mean, what he has gone through and seen is just really unbelievable. And we want to bring in our Gary Tuchman who was in Moore, Oklahoma, right now live throughout the morning.

And Gary, I can only imagine the sense of what this community has gone through. What are they telling you?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, people here just really can't believe it. It's like a nightmare. And I feel the same way. I have been standing outside the -- where the Plaza Tower school used to stand. I've been here all night and now -- early this morning. And just a sickening feeling. You don't recognize the school.

And for hours I've been watching these men and women search on the rubble. Hoping for a miracle, hoping to find a survivor, hoping that (INAUDIBLE) found somebody alive and has not happened. And it's distressing and disappointing.


MANN: Gary, I'm going to interrupt for just a second. We want to remind people, these are the latest images we have. These are pictures from the scene. They're not live but these are the most recent images we have. It was a place of great activity. A lot of workers there. Tell us about what's going on there now.

TUCHMAN: Right. These are pictures that we actually (INAUDIBLE) so this is material for, like, 15 minutes ago. It looks the same right now. People are still searching but it's not as frantic as it was earlier in the evening. (INAUDIBLE) acknowledgment that they frankly don't expect to find survivors inside this rubble.

We don't know, as you mentioned, Jonathan, earlier just how many people, children, are still unaccounted for. Earlier in the evening they said it was 24. We got the only good news that we've heard of the evening so far that some of those children were in shelters and indeed were not killed. And that is a great relief.

But we certainly know that there is great distress and sadness because I talked to -- earlier this evening with a man who's 9-year-old, third grader that was, was sitting next to me, sitting on a stool being comforted by fire officials, tears rolling down his face as a doctor came and said please, sir, I hate to tell you this, but please be prepared for the worst because don't necessarily expect to find survivors here.

So it is a horrifying situation. This entire neighborhood here in Moore were destroyed but almost completely flat. I mean, you don't see any structures standing anywhere. This was a very busy middle class neighborhood. A lot of houses next to each other. You see nothing recognizable. And I'm here right now and I just can't help but think back 18 years ago. Thirty minutes away from here. The Oklahoma City federal building, the bombing by Timothy McVeigh, where so many children in that day care center and I stood outside that federal building and watched them search for possible survivors in that building where 168 people had died including so many children. And now here we are, this wasn't terrorism, obviously. But it's the same city suffering again while they search for this city's children. It's so sad and traumatic.

MALVEAUX: And Gary, again, I want to remind our viewers we're looking at these pictures that are just coming in you say from 15 minutes ago. And we're seeing the rescue workers. They've got various colored helmets on, different type of outfits and uniforms. And we can see them literally picking through the rubble.

Can you describe for us, explain what they are trying to do? I imagine there is heavy, there's light equipment. There's just about everything they can possible use to try to detect whether or not there is life.

TUCHMAN: Right. Earlier in the evening, Suzanne, there was no machinery being used whatsoever. Because the feeling that was that they were hopeful they would find survivors. They've got to make sure that no one could possibly be hurt by any of the equipment. But it came to the point where they realized that likely survivors will be found but they really were not getting anywhere. As far as we know they still haven't found any body.

That's not good or bad news. It's just the fact. That there's just tons of rubble here they can't get to the bodies. So then they decided to bring the machinery, bring bulldozers, bring drills and bring -- people were using axes to clear some of the rubble away so they could get a better look. But as of now, it's so interesting that they have not recovered any bodies.

We see all these little stretchers that have been out here for hours and medical equipment. None of it has been used because there have not been any survivors or and haven't been any victims recovered. What's notable is that there were lots of doctors and nurses here all hoping to be able to save lives. And they really had nothing to do on most of (INAUDIBLE) left.

MALVEAUX: That is just heart-breaking. Absolutely heart-breaking. When you think of all those people who had hoped, you know, that they would be able to help to rescue and they were told -- go away, go home. You know? There's not a need for you here.

MANN: Well, you know, this is something we've been talking about and I bet they're talking about it in Moore, Oklahoma. That miracles happen. The woman in Bangladesh who emerged after 16 days under the rubble. Miracles happen.


MANN: Miracles happen. So let's hope for it.

On the phone now, 21-year-old Madi Alexander who lives just one street over from the path of the tornado and hid in her closet when the tornado passed through.

First of all, we hope you and your family and your friends have all come through this all right but you saw this storm go by? And I gather you saw people rush towards that school? Can you tell us about what happened?

MADI ALEXANDER, TORNADO VICTIM: Yes, I Mean, I was, you know, a mile from the highway and about two streets south of where the tornado just flattened the neighborhood. And as soon as it went by, my neighbors came out of their houses, checked on each other. And then everyone just flooded towards the elementary school. People were riding in the back of pick-up trucks, people were grabbing their equipment and just getting to the school as fast as they could.

MANN: Now the people of Oklahoma, the people of Moore, have been through so many terrible storms. But what was it like in those first moments? Did people emerge panicked? Were they shocked? Or do people -- do people know the drill and just work through it?

ALEXANDER: I mean, I -- this is the first time that I have ever been through a tornado this close. When I first came out of my house the people were saying this is worse than May 3rd, this is worse than May 3rd, and I just kept thinking oh my god, how could this possibly be worse than May 3rd. But, you know, just seeing all the destruction and seeing, you know, houses are flattened, neighborhoods just gone, it was -- I mean, it's terrible.

MANN: I want to ask you about that, because even as people were rushing towards the school you had to be taking in the scene around you, the landscape that we're looking at now. The completely destroyed and barren ground where your town once stood.

ALEXANDER: Yes. I mean, my first -- you know, my first reaction was just to -- trying to, you know, block out my emotions. I mean, try to, you know, almost remain numb so I could focus on trying to help people. Trying to -- you know, people were trying to get in and out of neighborhoods. I was trying to give them directions. And it was -- it was hard. I'm still shaken up. But you know it's Oklahoma.

And at first you're sad, then you're scared, then -- and you realize that there are things that you have to do and you have to help your neighbors and you have to help people out, and so that's what you do.

MANN: Well, I just want to remind people it is 10 hours since the storm struck. This is -- it's not even a memory. You're still enduring it. Do you have somewhere safe to sleep tonight? Do you know where your family members are? Do you have a working phone to get in touch with the people you want to ring a bell?

ALEXANDER: I do. Actually I had several friends, you know, message me on Facebook and texting me, saying, you know, if you -- if you need a place to sleep tonight, if you need somewhere to go, you know, I have an apartment for you, I have a bed for you. And, you know, that's really heartwarming. That's pretty much what Oklahoma is. Just neighbors helping neighbors. And I -- my phone works. I was able to get, you know, clothing out before we drove out of our neighborhood. And my house doesn't have water, power, you know, gas, or anything. So we're going to try and get back but for now I'm just staying with a friend.

MANN: Madi Alexander, on the line with us. Thanks very much. It is good to talk to a tough young lady. One more tough gal from Oklahoma who's come through this. And that community is coming together and moving on.

MALVEAUX: She's one of the lucky ones, though, because if you can only imagine, if you don't know where somebody is. If it's a friend, if it's a family member, they're missing and you don't know where they are, there's ways if you can to try to find, get information about where they might be. So one place, the Red Cross. It's got a safe and well Web site. That is up and running right now. You can find it, it's You can list yourself or you search for family or for friends.

People also of course, as they do in these times of tragedy, reaching out to each other through social media to connect with friends and loved ones. You can visit

And we all ask this every single time you see people in this kind of situation a disaster, what can I do? You can always donate to the Red Cross. Visit the Web site. This is at or you can call 1-800-REDCROSS, perhaps the easiest way, just to text the word REDCROSS to the number 90999 and if you make a $10 donation.

So yes, there is something that each and every one of us can do. Clearly this is a community that is going to be suffering for quite some time.

MANN: It's 13 minutes, now 14 minutes after the hour. Our extensive coverage of the terrible tornado that hit Oklahoma continues. We'll be back right after this.


MALVEAUX: You are looking at the pictures of the devastation there. I mean, this is just -- the damage is so extensive here in Oklahoma that the president, of course, getting involved, signing a declaration, a disaster declaration that he typically does. President Obama giving the state access to federal funds as well. Federal aid, emergency aid, and that is going to be crucial in the days to come.

MANN: This picture of President Obama speaking on the phone with Oklahoma governor, Mary Fallin, Monday. He told her that the state is in his and the first lady's thoughts and prayers and he promised support in the recovery efforts ahead.


GOV. MARY FALLIN, OKLAHOMA: We are doing everything we can to get all the resources out throughout this community. And certainly we have other areas of the state that we are 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've been had a phone call from President Obama who sends his prayers for the state. He's also offered to do anything that he can do speed up our federal assistance and any type of red tape that might in our way and offer resources, too. (END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: This is what is particularly heart-breaking, as of course they're looking for survivors. But there were two elementary schools that were in the direct path of the tornado. So there is certainly a desperate search for some of those missing kids.

MANN: And the kids are turning up in places some people haven't thought of. Some of the children reported missing, in fact, they've been found in nearby churches, though again dozens remain unaccounted for. You mentioned two schools. One of them we've been talking about an awful lot. The other one flattened and miraculous they believe that no one inside of that school was killed. They believe all the children in that second school, Blackwell School, I think it was called, made it out OK.

MALVEAUX: Thank God.

I want to bring in George Howell. He's in Moore, Oklahoma, and he's actually near one of those schools.

George, do we have any sense at all whether or not people think there are still babies, children, inside of that building?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, inside the school, well, when we look at what Gary Tuchman saw just a few minutes ago, that video that he took of these rescuers still going through the rubble. You know, fair to say that activity is still continuing. But as even Gary mentioned, you know, it's a little slower than it was earlier today.

That's also something we've noticed on this end. Throughout the day we've noticed investigators, you know, investigators, firefighters, sheriff's deputies have filed by us to go in there, it's not happening quite as much.

I do want to draw your attention over here. We see some activity happening. Not exactly sure what this is. But, you know, a couple of, you know, marked units with lights on. No sirens that are leaving this location. Not sure exactly what to make of that but we will make some calls to try to get some sort of understanding. Better context and perspective on what is happening but fair to say things are slowing down a bit.

Also in the neighborhoods we have seen people, Suzanne, going house by house, these people with flashlights, you know, keeping up that search through the day. Earlier it was relatives looking for relatives. But they've all been told to leave. There is somewhat of a curfew out here. But just to make sure that looting doesn't happen.

Now it is, you see these teams going house by house. But again we're seeing a little less of that activity. Things seem to be slowing down a bit. Not exactly sure what to make of that. But we will certainly try to get some better context on what's exactly happening.

MANN: That school, Plaza Towers Elementary, is going to be, I think, for all of us and the entire country, the focus of so much sadness, so much grief, so much hope even at this hour. But walk us through as best you can, given the information you have, what actually happened there? What was it like in the moments before the storm hit, while it was hitting and then -- and then immediately afterwards?

HOWELL: Right. You know, we spoke to so many people, Jonathan. We spoke to one woman who was still looking for a relative after the storm came through. We spoke to a mother who told us about what her child went through inside that school building. She is -- her son told us, you know, that he did that duck and cover move that you do when you -- you get up against the wall when the storm is coming through. Many students are taught that here in Tornado Alley.

I remember being taught that back in Amarillo, Texas, where I was born. It's just something that you learn as a first, second and third grader. That's what they did and this mother said that that is how she found her son.

We also heard stories about people in the neighborhoods who -- you know, they got out of the way of the tornado first but then they came back and they went searching for people, went searching for their neighbors.

I want you to listen to one exchange that we had earlier. Listen.


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. It was -- it was just carnage. You know, it -- 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.

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: And there's a lot of emotion that goes into all of this. I mean, this is hard work, it's hard work first of all to go, you know, dig through all of this rubble. It's hard work to deal with the conditions out here. It's muddy, it's quite nasty. And we did get rain earlier. It's just a really, really bad situation.

But we do see these people who are keeping up the hope who are still searching. That search continues over there in the glow tonight. I know a lot of parents, I know a lot of people who are watching, relatives are hoping that, you know, we get some more good news out of this, guys.

MALVEAUX: All right. George, thank you so much.

I mean, it is really very touching. This guy is not a fire and rescue guy. This guy is just a neighbor. You know? And you can tell, he starts to cry because he's seeing things he's never seen before. You know? I mean, that's just what's happening in that community.

MANN: And you think they will have been through -- they would have been through everything in Tornado Alley. I mean, this is a place that gets hit time and time again but not like this, which brings us to really the storm itself.

Fast-moving, massive in size. Kicking up debris and leveling buildings along the way.

Meteorologist Ivan Cabrera is standing by at the CNN Severe Weather Center.

Ivan, here's the stunning thing. There is still a threat out there?

IVAN CABRERA, AMS METEOROLOGIST: There is still a threat. It is much weaker here as far as the storms that could form overnight. We're going to get into that in a second here. But I must say that there are a lot of people that lost their lives yesterday that did everything right. Did everything that we normally tell them to do. Get into your storm shelter. Get away from windows to the center of your room.

We have teachers that got their students exactly where they needed to go. I have been on drills with schools before. God bless them, they did everything right. This event was very difficult to survive unless you were underground or in a fortified storm shelter. There were a lot of places in Oklahoma City that do not have basements because of the geology there. It is just difficult to drill down. You basically have to use dynamite here.

So an exception event, 22-mile path. It was on the ground for 40 minutes. Again National Weather Service preliminary EF-4. Right? This could get bumped to an EF-5 which means that winds in excess of 200 miles an hour. Of course we showed you that two-mile wide debris ball that had just everyone's homes in it. And it traveled 22 miles. And that is why -- here's the image here, when it was coming through Moore.

This is why sometimes you find people's belongings, and I think we will, anywhere 10, 15, 20 miles down the path. The tornado picks it up and drops it eventually here.

Let's get to the current conditions and show you what's going to be happening here as we head through tonight and into tomorrow. The threat certainly diminishing certainly for Moore here. But we're not quite done with the storm system. It will continue to kind of push east. Right now we basically have a squall line here. There are no, no tornado warnings at this hour. Tornado watches continue which means conditions are favorable for them to form but nothing right now.

Let's zoom into the place that needs the fair weather and I think we're going to get it finally tomorrow.

Moore, we have had a few showers rolling through. We do have -- see this yellow line here, we still have a severe thunderstorm watch box here. But no tornado watches for the area that got hit today. All of that will transcend to the east and push further east. So if you're watching this from Dallas, Shreveport, Little Rock, this is the area we're going to watch very closely throughout the day. The ingredient we lost of course to the overnight hour is the heat.

We're going to get the heat back and we're also going to get the potential for the strong storms to develop once again through the afternoon so we have again round three here to contend with, guys.

MALVEAUX: All right. Ivan, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

And of course, we're going to be taking a really close look minute by minute, hour by hour at the weather reports and what they're dealing with on the ground. The desperate search for survivors. This one turning tragic. This happened at a 7-Eleven. This is in Oklahoma. I'm going to tell you this is a heartbreaking story of what rescuers discovered under the rubble. This was just hours ago.

MANN: It is 27 minutes after the hour, 10 hours and 27 minutes since the storm hit. Our extensive coverage continues after this.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've lost animals. We have lost everything. We don't have anything left. And my parents, I can't get ahold of them. We have no -- we have no cell. We -- you know, so if they're out there and they're watching, please let them know that I and my family is OK. And we'll make it. We'll be OK. But everything is gone.


MANN: "Everything is gone." It took only a few moments for so many to lose so much in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area.

Welcome back.

MALVEAUX: She's got a lot of spirit, a lot of heart there, but she has lost everything. And this monster tornado that tore through Monday, it has now killed dozens of people. Dozens more have been hospitalized.

It is now past 1:00 in the morning in Oklahoma, and rescuers, they are still racing against time and darkness searching for possible survivors.

We are looking at pictures that were taken within the hour. We are only really just beginning to learn how devastating this monster tornado has been.

In the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, there is destruction in every direction. Rescuers just digging for signs of life under the debris that's been left behind. In some locations, what they're finding is absolutely heartbreaking.

Meg Alexander from Oklahoma's KFOR. She has the story.


MEG ALEXANDER, KFOR REPORTER (voice-over): It was a race against the clock. Desperate rescue crews and volunteers, anyone who would pitch in. They are trying to save those buried under the rubble of a 7- Eleven and liquor store at Telephone Road in Southwest 4th.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're digging, trying to find people. I'm not sure if they found anybody or they just keep walking towards me.

ALEXANDER: Some bodies already pulled from the debris. But word was a woman and baby were still missing. It was believed the mother had taken the baby into a freezer to weather the storm. A dog sniffed out something. A digging frenzy of desperation followed only to unearth a limp baby's body. Moments later, another find.

(On camera): This is heartbreaking to say the least right now. We're looking at another body being pulled up here. We believe it's the mother of the 7-month-old. At this point, we will leave the 7-Eleven liquor store. We're looking at a man, two women and a 7-month-old baby as fatalities at this hour.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We just started grabbing and throwing debris trying to get anybody out.


ALEXANDER: Well, as you can see, my photographer, John Angler and I, we were there as well trying to help and you're just digging as fast as you can with all the hope in the world that maybe you will have a good outcome. In that situation, that was not the case. But we sure hope tomorrow there are some good outcomes.

MALVEAUX: That's hard to watch. I mean, they are just -- I mean, these are neighbors. These are people who are just hoping for signs of life and are so devastated, so disappointed.

MANN: The reporters are trying to help, ordinary people are trying to help. In fact the authorities are telling people to stay away because now it is dark, it is dangerous terrain. This is the kind of work experts do carefully. They are still looking for signs of life but the news has not been good. We've been talking about 51 people confirmed dead. And now we have word --reports still waiting for official confirmation -- there may be another 40 bodies on their way to the Medical Examiner's Office. The toll of this storm, though it was not physically the worst storm Oklahoma has been through, the human toll has been heartbreaking and enormous.

MALVEAUX: The sun will come up at 6:22 in Oklahoma. And we will get a much better sense, a much better picture of what this community, what this country is going to be faced with. What it will be dealing with in the days ahead.


MALVEAUX: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the Oklahoma tornadoes.

MANN: It is the bottom of the hour. Here is a quick reset. The confirmed death toll from Monday's tornado now stands officially at 51. We're making that point very, very carefully because the number of confirmed deaths is expected to rise dramatically.

MALVEAUX: And Texas is sending the state's elite search and rescue team to Oklahoma City as search and rescue continues now into the second day. Experienced storm chasers were amazingly, they were just flabbergasted, surprised, shocked by what they saw.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going to go just to our north.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Listen to it. You can hear it. Listen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look at that color of the cloud.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Listen to the roar.


MANN: It's Tornado Alley. People in Oklahoma are used to being the target of massive storms.

MALVEAUX: Gary Tuchman, he's covering the most -- he actually covered the most powerful tornado on the record books. That's when it passed through Oklahoma, they have seen their share. This is back in 1999. And Gary is joining us on the line from Moore, Oklahoma.

And, Gary, I have to ask you this because, you know, this is not your first rodeo. You are seeing what is on the ground today. How does this compare?

TUCHMAN: You're right. It's not my first rodeo. What strikes you when you -- when you stand here and look at the rubble like I'm looking at right now of the elementary school is first thinking about Joplin in 2011, 158 people were killed in a tornado that devastated a medium sized area. Oklahoma City, suffering the same thing.

We sent in some video. My photographer (INAUDIBLE) a short time ago. The first video from what close up of the scene here at the Plaza Tower Elementary School. We haven't been permitted to shoot video because of two reasons, because of security and because many of the roads have been washed out. So while I have been here for several hours, this is our first opportunity to get the pictures. And it showed you something that's pretty important. Frankly some media outlets have been reporting the search here has been suspended.

It has not been suspended and I know that because I'm staring at the (INAUDIBLE) do the work right now at the elementary school.


MALVEAUX: Gary, if I could interrupt you for a moment. Can you describe for us what these pictures are that we are seeing with these individuals with various uniforms and helmets? What are they doing?

TUCHMAN: What they're doing, they're doing their best to try to perform a miracle. Try to rescue a living human being from the rubble of this elementary school. It has not happened, Suzanne. They are diligently working. They have brought in machinery previous to these pictures being taken. Bulldozers, drills. They've been using axes to try to clear away the tons of rubble.

The fact is they haven't rescued anyone but they also haven't brought out any bodies. There have been at least 24 children who were thought to be unaccounted for. The only good news we've had today some of those children have shown up in shelters but we do know there are still children missing. But no bodies have been recovered and no survivors have been recovered either for that matter.

So they're still here, still working hard. They'll work all night (INAUDIBLE) out here. But this is a flatted -- a flattened terrain. Everything is destroyed here. And like I said, it reminds me of Joplin, reminded me of Greensburg, Kansas. It also reminds me of the tsunami in northern Japan. And the devastation we saw in Haiti in January of 2010. But you see our good people, military people, doctors, nurses, firemen, fire women, policemen, policewomen all coming together to try to rescue, to try to save lives.

And here it has been a crushing disappointment that they have not been able to pull anyone out of the rubble of the elementary school and we do know there are some victims who have perished, died (INAUDIBLE). Seven children have already been pronounced dead who were in the school when the tornado came.

One final thing, Suzanne, and I'll tell you is that we always talk about a tragedy that sometimes you say wow, it was really fortunate that it did happen in the middle of the day or something like that. This was the opposite case. If this tornado would have been later these children would have been out of school. And so their lives would have been saved. It's so tragic that these kids were still inside the school building.

MALVEAUX: That really is. It is very tragic. And Gary, one thing you had mentioned that we should point out, too, is you say that they had heavy equipment machinery they brought in but they put it aside because they wanted to make sure that the structure didn't collapse any further or that they did any further damage to someone who might be trapped in the rubble. So literally using their hands, using, you know, picks, shovels, whatever small tools to try to see if they can't lift some of that debris and that material and find someone who has survived.

Gary, thank you very much. We're going to get back to you as the morning continues. And you know, there are schools in Moore, Oklahoma, as Gary mentioned. They were full of students. I mean, they were in session and that's where those kids got trapped.

MANN: We are going to talk now to Shae Rowell, a teacher who survived the storm with her students inside one of the schools.

I cannot imagine what that was like -- what that was like for you or for your children. Tell us about it.

SHAE ROWELL, MOORE, OKLAHOMA, TEACHER: I was with a teacher, a mentor of mine. And we have down here about 12 kids because many had left. Their parents had picked them up. And we were just trying to keep it light and make sure that they weren't too scared. Meanwhile, we were passing our phones back and forth and keeping each other apprised of what was going on.

MANN: Where was your school compared to the storm? How close did it come?

ROWELL: About three blocks away. We are off 240 and Bryant. And in between 240 and 27th 27th Street, and if you go over from 27th Street it goes 12 then 4th then 19th. And the storm went between 4th and 19th.

MANN: So presumably you were inside of the debris field. The wind was going by your school and everything the wind was carrying and whipping around must have been hitting at the building.

ROWELL: Yes. We primarily heard the hail. A lot of schools here don't have windows which turned out to be a blessing. It was hail and wind. I honestly didn't see much. We were locked down for -- I lost track of time. Three, maybe four hours.

MALVEAUX: How was it that your students were able to survive? Can you describe for us what that was like and what they did?

ROWELL: We just did our normal tornado procedures. You go into the designated wall in the building. And you cover. You get up close to the wall and you cover your head. We got (INAUDIBLE) for each kid and we put it over their heads, and we just-- we kept them talking and kept them as calm as we could.

Our kids did a really good job in our room. And I know a lot of teachers had kids really upset. And understandably so.

MANN: So your kids weren't crying? They weren't hurt? You're being very calm. And it sounds like you did a miraculous job keeping your students calm.

ROWELL: It was hardly miraculous. We were just trying to -- we were -- like I said passing our phones back and forth and trying to keep track of what was going on and, you know, making jokes and trying to keep it light for the kids. And it was a blessing we didn't have windows so we really couldn't see what was going on. I think it would have been a lot worse if we could -- if we could see what was going on.

MALVEAUX: All right. Shae Rowell, thank you so much for joining us, for being with us early in the morning. We're just -- it's just a blessing that your children are OK, that you're OK. And certainly when the sun comes up there's going to be a lot of recovery and I imagine, you know, some real tough conversations to have.

MANN: And also 1,000 stories about brave people like that who had the job of taking care of youngsters, taking care of other people. Taking care of their neighbors. People who volunteered and rushed in. An extraordinary community that's now enduring really well past the breaking point. But it's just remarkable to hear from people like that.

MALVEAUX: I imagine we're going to hear a lot more of those stories as well. The heroes of all this.

MANN: We'll be back right after this.


MANN: Welcome back. It is 10 minutes to the hour, nearly 11 hours after that terrible tornado struck Oklahoma. And in that time as we've been reporting, this story we've been hearing amazing tales of survival in the devastation of Moore and the communities nearby.

MALVEAUX: And you saw that tweet from the governor, obviously trying to get a sense of what is taking place on the ground. We've got students and staff inside several schools in Moore when this tornado just rips through the town. At least seven children were killed at Plaza Tower Elementary School. But one man and his friends, they sprang in action to save the lives of a teacher and her students who were trapped in the rubble.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Me and one of the guys pulled the teacher out. She was on top of three kids. And the kids were fine. She was hurt pretty bad. We put her on a door and then put her on top of a 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.

Kids everywhere and people running around screaming. There was cars on their sides. Schools just gone. I mean you really can't tell what was the front and what was the back any more.


MALVEAUX: Now. They got guys like that who were just stepping in. You know? I mean, those are the kind of stories we're also going to hear as well. Some of those stories are just people who are -- you know, they're brave. That's what they do.

MANN: Wow.

MALVEAUX: That's how they react.

MANN: In the middle of a midday nightmare, they kept their heads and they knew what to do.

MALVEAUX: So here's what we're looking at here because this storm, this powerful tornado causing miles and miles of damage. This is Oklahoma City's infrastructure. Entire neighborhoods flattened. Houses literally disappeared.

MANN: Tens of thousands of people still without power. Tom Foreman has a look now at the destructive tornado's path through town.


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 force as the storm came through.

Look what it did. Here is the school before the storm hit. Here is that same school afterwards. 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 afterwards. 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 at its strongest right through here. About a mile wide side to side. That's where the storm came ripping through. And by our estimate there were 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.


MANN: It's easy to feel powerless and it's easy to wonder what you can do. Well, find out how you can help the victims of the deadly tornadoes in Oklahoma. Visit our "Impact Your World" page at

Well, our reporting will continue. We're here live all through the night in Oklahoma. The searchers are still at work. There are still victims to be accounted for. There are still families that are waiting to be reunited. And there's an awful lot of work ahead for the people of Moore, Oklahoma.

MALVEAUX: We have got the latest into the early morning hours. We are live every hour, every moment from the ground. We will be right back.


MANN: Welcome back. The day began with an urgent warning and the destruction that followed was swift and incredibly severe.

MALVEAUX: This is how Monday unfolded in Oklahoma. This is a day that people are never going to forget.


JAKE TAPPER, ANCHOR, "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER": Breaking news. A tornado just touched down in New Castle, Oklahoma.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: If you are in the Moore area, from (INAUDIBLE) to Moore, please take cover now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh my goodness. It's almost -- it's three quarters of a mile wide. And it's moving into the -- western side. It is coming into highly, highly populated areas. This type of tornado will just level town. Honestly, this is getting very scary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is so big, it really doesn't look like a tornado.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not something to play around with. Just get into that storm shelter and just stay in there until you hear that the storm has finally passed.

TAPPER: You're looking at one of the results of one of the most destructive tornadoes in recent memory. The shredded parts of the Oklahoma City area.

WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: It is almost unbelievable what we are seeing right now. Block after block after block of homes destroyed. Shocked residents hugging each other in the streets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are probably 200 yards away. He's been pulling out children. Third graders. It is -- I have never seen anything like this in my 18 years covering tornadoes here in Oklahoma City. This is without question the most horrific --


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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And if you could walk over here, you were telling me that this right here is basically where you lived. So you not only worked here, this is where you lived.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As you can see, my belongings. And then a couple of fans for -- in the shed row. And, you know, it's just -- it's lost, lost everything.