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Tornadoes in Oklahoma Tear Through Community; Rescue and Recovery Efforts Ongoing in Oklahoma

Aired May 21, 2013 - 03:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: in the shed row. And, you know, it's just -- lost everything.

JONATHAN MANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello to our viewers in the United States and around the world as we continue our live breaking news coverage of the devastating tornado that struck the U.S. state of Oklahoma. I'm Jonathan Mann.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Suzanne Malveaux at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Right now it is 2:00 am in Oklahoma. And now you're looking at pictures. These are pictures of the search.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): It is the rescue and recovery efforts that are going on. They are going on all night long and into the morning, well into the early morning hours. This is Moore, Oklahoma.

MANN (voice-over): It has been 11 hours now since disaster struck.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not good. Dear God, please keep these people safe.

MANN (voice-over): The reality is now setting in that this tornado is likely among the worst in U.S. history. The official death toll stands at 51. But that number will rise. We're told that 40 more bodies are being transported to the medical examiner's office.

Dozens of children are among the dead. People from all around are picking up and pitching in to help.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We came out to help the effort for Moore. And, you know, we want to feed those responders. We want to give them as much as they want and any of the families that are coming up here, too. They can come up here and get food, too.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So can you tell me what you guys --


MANN: Oklahoma's governor says it's just a horrible time for her state.


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

And right now, we're doing everything we can as a state to get as much emergency personnel, state agencies, all the different charities that are out, in doing search and rescue efforts, trying to make sure that we have looked under every single piece of debris and every single building, and along the roads and communities to find anyone that might be injured or might be lost from the storms that have hit the state of Oklahoma.


MALVEAUX: You see the leadership from the governor, but also you see the emotion in her eyes. You see it in the governor. You see it in the Red Cross worker.

I want to go to Gary Tuchman, who is on the ground in Moore, Oklahoma. He has been there all day.

And Gary, talk about that. Talk about the kind of emotion that you are seeing.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, there is such utter sadness here in the Oklahoma City area. It's so eerie right now, 2:00 in the morning, as you pointed out local time here. Complete darkness in Moore, because most of the city is without power.

But the light we do see is a combination of lightning in the sky that continues to flash, the amazingly illuminating lighting on top of the elementary school here where the search continues, looking for a miracle possibility that there is a survivor, but a more likely possibility that there are still bodies buried inside the rubble, and also, the lights of helicopters flying overhead and police vehicles that go up and down the streets.

It looks like -- it feels like a police state right now. It's a sad and eerie feeling.

Outside the school -- I've been here like five or six hours -- we just keep watching, hoping that we see one of the stories that we'll remember forever, the miracle survivor who comes out, who is alive inside the rubble.

But it just seems very unlikely that's going to happen. The reason that's been (inaudible) now is because we've seen doctors and nurses leaving the site over the past few hours. They came here, hoping to help out, coming with their medical equipment, coming with their stethoscopes, their structures, their medicines and it was never used tonight, because they were never able to rescue (inaudible) school.

Seven children have been confirmed dead. Their bodies have already been taken away from the school. It's believed there are some more inside. It's not clear how many; 24 children were unaccounted for earlier, Suzanne. But some of those, that's the good news, were found later in shelters, and they're OK.

But right now we are watching the search continue. And it will continue indefinitely because right now they haven't -- not only have they not gotten survivors, but they haven't gotten the bodies out of the tons of rubble of a building that was a school about 12 hours ago and now looks nothing like it, just tons of rubble on the ground in a neighborhood that has been decimated, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And Gary, you brought us new pictures. This was just a couple of hours ago of that search and rescue that was taking place outside of the elementary school. Are they still searching now? Are they still there in the same numbers, those groups of people that we saw who were so desperately trying to find survivors?

TUCHMAN: Yes. The pictures that we sent you are now about an hour and a half old. But it looks almost exactly the same right now.

Normally our viewers are used to seeing a lot of pictures of something like this. But due to security considerations, and because of a lot of the roads have been washed away, they told news crews not to come here with a lot of vehicles or any cameras, for that matter. For many hours we were here without a camera; I was just describing what I was seeing.

They allowed our camera inside, and that's when we were able to send the first pictures from the scene of this rescue effort.

But it's still going on. It will continue indefinitely.

But I'm telling you, Suzanne, when we came here earlier, we were just very hopeful. We've covered enough stories and seen such amazing when it come to situations like this where we would hope that someone would come out of this rubble of the school alive. And it just hasn't happened, and it's very sad and depressing.

And it was so hard earlier when I was sitting next to a man who looked very sad. And a fireman told me that was a man whose son was inside. And I talked to him, and he told me it was his 9-year-old son. And he was sitting here with tears streaming down his face. He was a very big man. He just sat there quietly, and he knew there was nothing he could do.

And it was very painful, just as a human being, as a father, to sit next this man and see what he was going through. It was just awful.

MANN: Gary, where are the parents now?

TUCHMAN: Jonathan, they were told earlier in the evening that there wasn't much they could do here. They wanted to help at different community centers around the area. So most of the parents didn't come here. But there were two or three earlier in the evening while I was here. And they put -- and there's not tent. This is just like mud and water here. I mean, it's a very inhospitable area right now.

But they put out three -- they put out stools for the parents who decided to sit here and wait. You know, I was thinking as a parent, God forbid, if any parent, if this happened to you, you feel like you want to run out in the rubble and look yourself for your child. But you realize right away that's impossible. There is nothing you can do.

There is 40 men and women up there, searching with machinery and expertise, and they can find nothing. So you realize right away, you sit there, you hope for the best. That's what these people were doing. But ultimately they decided to leave also (inaudible) the location in the city where they would get help. So right now it doesn't appear, from what I'm looking at, that any parents are left here.

MALVEAUX: And Gary, just quickly here, do you think, you know, as daylight breaks and the parents come back to the scene of this elementary school, will they try to provide some services, food, comfort to those parents, who very likely will want to come back and see for themselves?

TUCHMAN: Yes. They definitely will, if they want to come back. But I can assure you that they're getting the comfort and the food and anything they need now at a different location from here. There is not much that can be done for them here. But I assume some of them will want to come back tomorrow when it's daylight to see what is going on.

We don't know how long it will take to recover the bodies of whatever children are still in the school. But they had (inaudible) today and they weren't able to do it. I anticipate, though, with a whole new day tomorrow, they will.

MALVEAUX: All right. Gary Tuchman, thank you so much. Just heartbreaking, but we'll get back to you later in the hour.

MANN: On the line with us now, CNN iReporter Tyler Menge, who traveled from Oklahoma City to Moore to capture the devastation left behind by the tornado.

Tyler, you got a lot of what you saw, I guess, on your iPhone. Tell us what you have seen the last few hours.

TYLER MENGE, IREPORTER: It's just very surreal. It's almost a sensory overload. Once you get to a devastation area to really go to help out, and you see what looks like an atomic bomb zone, just the sheer destruction and hundreds of people running into these neighborhoods to look for survivors.

And it's very life-changing when you think about it. I just jumped in with another group of guys and started right into a neighborhood going house to house, making sure that everyone had gotten out OK.

MANN: Now, we don't really get a sense of this because we're all looking at these images on television sets or on computer screens. But you were there.

How big a path did it seem to you when you were in the middle of the swath of the tornado that cut through the town?

MENGE: You could stand right in the middle of it and look both ways and still not see the end. I mean, it was a good half mile to a quarter mile wide, several blocks of just sheer destruction. I mean, I walked through a good chunk of it. But it's really hard to just wrap your brain around how massive the path was of this tornado.

MANN: You're from Oklahoma. You live there. So you have seen a fair number of these storms before. How does this one compare?

MENGE: This is definitely one of the more destructive ones that we have seen. I mean, I've seen tornadoes before on the news, but it's completely another thing when you're actually there on the ground in the middle of all the damage and destruction and you actually see the faces and the emotions that are in the air, just it's really changing.

MANN: Moore has been hit several times before. Everyone in Oklahoma probably knows someone who has lived through a tornado or who has been through one themselves.

What is it about the people of Oklahoma that gives them the courage to stay there and endure these and rebuild after every one of these tragedies?

MENGE: You know, that's (inaudible) of Oklahomans, I guess. It's a very tight-knit community. Everyone loves the city of Moore. There is a lot of great people, I mean, it's we're not going to let a little bit of nature just really shake us at all. Just rebuild and live your life and you know, you remember the tragedies, but you move on to the future and just hope for a better life.

MANN: Now, Oklahoma City is really nearby. It sounds like you left the city, went not that far to Moore, and then returned back from that scene of utter devastation to a community that basically still has its lights, still has its power, still has all of its people, hale and hearty. It must be like going from night into day or from crisis into calm.

MENGE: Yes, it really makes you realize, I mean, makes you appreciate everything you have. I mean, I know a lot of people and I have a lot of friends in that community that was hit. Trying to just make sure everyone was OK and its communications really out, it's hard to really get hold of anybody.

I mean, I really wish I could do more than I can right now. I'm seeing what else I can do, and go out and volunteer and maybe donate and send out supplies to other volunteer workers to just really help all the aid workers, because there is a lot that still needs to be done.

MANN: Yes. And we're hoping for the best, of course, for your friends, for your family, for everything in Moore. Tyler Menge on the line with us; thanks very much.


MALVEAUX: The storm system that spawned these deadly tornadoes, it's not done yet. Our meteorologist, Ivan Cabrera, is at the weather center to explain.

What are the conditions that people are hoping for tomorrow morning -- or this morning, rather -- later in the day to be optimum conditions to find people or to rescue and sort out what they're dealing with?

IVAN CABRERA, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, the severe weather threat, Suzanne, is going to move east, OK. So in Moore I think we're going to be fine for Tuesday. We had a repeat here on Monday. We had severe weather, as you know, in Shawnee, rolling through the day on Sunday.

That is because the center for the severe weather had not changed, had not moved much. I think it will push to the east. In fact, it's doing that right now.

What we have is a giant squall from Canada all the way down into Memphis. In fact, we're just under this, a tornado watch box here, approaching Indianapolis. There you see a very significant squall and we had a tornado warning out earlier. Again, this is not one of those monster tornadoes, but sometimes you get little spinups right at the leading edge of these squall lines.

These are severe thunderstorm watch -- severe thunderstorm warnings right now, meaning that winds can access 58 miles an hour. Certainly that can do damage. You don't need the winds to spin to cause damage, and that is what we're going to be watching up to the north.

There is more. We've had a few showers rolling through. But again, I think the worst of the weather here is certainly over. The severe weather threat is going to be pushing to the east.

That means that if you're watching us from Dallas, Shreveport, southwestern Arkansas, this entire area you see in red has a very good possibility to see discrete supercells, the kinds of which put down that massive tornado in Moore on Monday.

So we're going to watch this area very closely today. You can see that Oklahoma, or at least where we had that damage, is certainly out of it by the time we get into the heating of the day.

By the way, we started this tornado season very slow. You know we've had these very cold outbreaks far into the spring here, and what we've been missing is the warm, moist air coming up from the south. That's why things haven't been cooking.

And all of the sudden now, we have that ingredient that was missing, cold air from the north; strong jet stream, certainly that's there. And now we get this warm Gulf moisture that comes in.

And all those ingredients are what you need to make the strongest winds on Earth, which occur in Tornado Alley, and occurred on Sunday, occurred on Monday, and has the potential now, this system, to put down tornadoes once again, just further east through the day today.

So we'll be watching that rather closely. So we're now going into 72 hours of this mess. Guys? All right, Ivan, thanks. Looks like there is more bad weather to come.

I want to bring in our KOCO reporter, Michael Seiden. He is at the Moore Medical Center. He is joining us live.

And first of all, what is the likelihood here of survivors and also the injured? I understand that there are a lot of people who have been taken to area hospitals.

MICHAEL SEIDEN, KOCO: Well, if you're talking about here at Moore Medical Center, we are told that at least 12 people were transferred to other metro hospitals with undisclosed injuries. We're not sure if they were critical or just minor injuries.

As far as deaths or injuries go in the entire city of Moore, I know that the medical examiner in Oklahoma says she believes at least 91 people have passed away, and we're being told -- we have heard multiple reports that at least 91 of them, 20 are children.

But I want to show you. Take a look right here. This is Moore Medical Center. If you look right there, that is just rubble; that is an administrator building. You have got a lot of office people working in there. You can see it is a mess.

But really what I want to show you, some of the most stunning video. If you take a look over here, it honestly looks like a junkyard. You can just see vehicles stacked on top of each other now. The tornado sucked up these vehicles and tossed them all over this parking lot.

We had some crews in here. They had stacked them up on top of each other so that they could get in here. And if you notice on some of the doors, you'll see that orange X; that was during the search and rescue, investigators going in there. And obviously the X means that they did not find anybody in there.

So right now we have not gotten any reports of any casualties here at this hospital. But, again, at least 12 people transported from this hospital to other metro hospitals in the Oklahoma City area.

MALVEAUX: So Michael, take us back if you will to earlier in the day. So this particular medical facility where you are, how many people were inside of that building at the time that the tornado hit? And how did they evacuate? How did they get them out?

SEIDEN: Well, we're not exactly sure a definitive number of how many people. But this is not only an emergency room; people come here for physical therapy. So you have doctors, nurses, lots of patients here.

This hospital took a direct hit. So we were told as soon as it took a direct hit, obviously emergency personnel, first responders, they rushed here and they started that evacuation process.

We spent, my photojournalist Brian Dixon (ph) and I, we have been covering this since about 3 o'clock Monday. We started -- we've been in a lot of neighborhoods, really hard-hit neighborhoods. And just as stunning if not more stunning than this are these neighborhoods. We're talking about a dozen homes destroyed, and we're talking to these homeowners who are riding out the storm under their beds, in closets, walking out without a scratch. So it's really an unbelievable story of survival for so many people in some of these neighborhoods right near this medical center.

MALVEAUX: And, Michael, before we let you go, I have to ask you, do they think there is anybody in that medical center now? Do they feel very confident that they have gotten everybody evacuated, that there is no one who is still missing inside of that facility?

SEIDEN: Yes, everybody has been cleared from this medical center. There is a police presence here. They're just watching some of the vehicles, making sure nobody comes in here, breaks anything or starts going through cars. But as far as this facility, everybody has been evacuated. They have already done a search. No bodies were found. And, again, no casualties are being reported here at this medical center.

MALVEAUX: All right, Michael Seiden, thank you so much.

Again, we are following. These are new pictures coming in from our affiliate here.

These are the latest pictures of what we're seeing at this particular medical facility that was hit earlier today, live pictures that we are watching right now of just -- you get a sense of the devastation, just how powerful this tornado is when you look at all the blown-out windows and those cars that are just tossed around, completely destroyed.

Fortunately, those people got out safely and have been taken to other medical facilities.

MANN: We're coming up on 18 minutes after the hour, 11 hours and 18 minutes since the tornado struck. And in all of that time, people are still looking for their friends and their family. Families are still split. Cell phones without power, without coverage.

If you're look for information about a missing loved one, Red Cross has its Safe and Well website up and running. See if you can get to a computer, and you can find it at You can list yourself or search for family or friends.

People are also using social media, of course, to connect with loved ones. Visit

And if you would like to donate to the Red Cross, visit its website at or call 1-800-redcross. Perhaps the easiest way is to just text the word REDCROSS to the number 90999 for a $10 donation. Our extensive coverage continues right after this.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MALVEAUX: We have got some new video, new video that is coming in just now. This is showing some rather emotional reunions, as you can imagine, between parents and children.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): This is Briarwood Elementary School. And this is just after the tornado ripped through Moore, Oklahoma.

MANN: Have a look at this and know we are just a stone's throw from Plaza Towers Elementary School where children died; children may still be under the rubble. Look at this, just a stone's throw away.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was so brave, so brave. Oh, he was so brave.


MANN: The scene at Briarwood Elementary. All of the children there made it out alive.

MALVEAUX: It's just unbelievable. I mean, I can't imagine what that woman is feeling at that moment, the relief, the sense of relief.

MANN: A parent enduring that and knowing their child has endured; it's a terrible time for parents whose children were in school at the time the tornado hit. At this hour, some of the missing children have been found.


MANN (voice-over): Look at this. Some of them have been found. But others are still unaccounted for.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): It's a time for hugs; it's a time for kisses. It's a time for tears. I mean, just beautiful, beautiful scenes of these reunions here.

MANN (voice-over): Of course, this was daylight. And it's not daylight anymore. It is the dark of night. It is a much more frustrating time. It is a fearful time.


MANN: George Howell is live from Moore, Oklahoma, and George, we just have to look around you. It's not daylight anymore there. There are no cars near you; there is no power near you, no stragglers making their way home from bars or restaurants. You're in a scene of devastation. What is going on around you at this hour?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jonathan, you know, I can report not nearly as much as we saw several hours before.

Hours before, we saw a line of members of the National Guard. We saw sheriff's deputies. We saw firefighters. They were all streaming past us to get in to this location. They're not doing that anymore. And I'll step out of the way; there is very little you can see here in the night, I know. But you can see the glow of lights there. The activity over there, I can say from what we've been able to see from this vantage point, a lot less happening over there.

I know here in the last two hours, a correspondent colleague, Gary Tuchman, brought in some video where he showed you, where we saw these rescuers going through that rubble.

But even Gary, at the time, reported that things were slowing down there. So, you know, that's what we're seeing. Obviously, we will -- we hope to get some new word from, you know, investigators, the people who are overseeing this operation to find out what is happening.

Actually, you know what? I think I see some people who are coming by with flashlights. We've been seeing a lot of that too, Jonathan, people with flashlights.


MANN: Well, let me just jump in and ask you.

Where are you now? Tell us about literally where you are standing. Was that a neighborhood? Was it a shopping district? Was it the middle of the road? Where are you now in what was Moore, Oklahoma?

HOWELL: I'm sure, and given that it's dark, it's hard to see. And you have all these people streaming by us, where are we? Well, this is a pedestrian bridge. It goes over a little stream. Right now you see members of the National Guard, as we have been reporting, who are going into this location to continue with the search and rescue operation.

On the other side of the stream, Jonathan, that is where the school stood. Can't see it here in the dark. But I can tell you, that's where the parking lot was. That's where the building was. Right back there, that's where the search and rescue continues.

So, you know, you can't see it now. But when we get daylight, this really is one of the best spots to see just how powerful this storm was. It really just leveled everything over there. And in daylight, we'll be able to show you that again, you know, exactly what is happening over there is still unclear. But as we get some more information, we will pass that on to you.

MALVEAUX: And George, I just want to ask you, you're about four hours away from daylight, from daybreak. What are you expecting to see?

HOWELL: Well, we have been told to expect that the death toll will continue to rise. So we are expecting to get more information about that.

We're expecting to possibly see -- get closer to the scene, you know, to see exactly what these investigators, what these crews have been dealing with, again, going through the rubble, trying to pull people out. We should be able to get closer to that. And we also expect people to come back to this neighborhood. There are family members; there are people who have been trying to get into their homes. I would presume some people were not able to get back into this neighborhood.

The traffic was so bad with everyone trying to get into these narrow streets to get become to their homes, to see if they were still standing. I'm sure there will be more people coming tomorrow to try to do the same thing. So, you know, tomorrow will be more of what we saw yesterday. It really is just a horrific scene out here.

All right, George. Thank you so much. Of course, we're going get back to you throughout the morning and certainly as the sun comes up as well. Thanks again, George.

MANN: Now there are places all around Moore, Oklahoma we've been watching, places where there has been tragedy, where there has been triumph. Coming up next, the desperate search for survivors at a 7- Eleven store in Oklahoma.

MALVEAUX: We're going to tell you about this -- it's a heartbreaking story. These are rescuers. And what they have actually discovered under the rubble. This was just hours ago.



MANN: It is 31 minutes past the hour, 11 hours and 31 minutes since the tornado struck Oklahoma. Welcome back to our continuing live coverage.


MANN (voice-over): The search for victims is continuing in all of this time. And we have a heartbreaking update. We've been telling you about 40 additional bodies that are en route to the medical examiner's office.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): And thousands of buildings, they are simply gone. To give you an idea of the magnitude of this tornado, debris has reportedly been found 90 miles away.


MALVEAUX: In the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, there is destruction in every direction. Rescuers, they are digging for any signs of life under this debris that has been left behind by this monster tornado.

In some locations, what they are finding, it is just heartbreaking. Meg Alexander, she is from Oklahoma's KFOR, and she gives us that side of the story.


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

They're digging, trying to find people. I'm not sure if they found anybody. They just keep walking toward me.

ALEXANDER (voice-over): Somebody is 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.

MEG ALEXANDER: 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 believe at the 7-Eleven and 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.

MEG ALEXANDER: Well, as you can see, my photographer, John Engler (ph), 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: The fact that you have people, neighbors, just people who are digging, hoping for the best possible outcome. And it's heartbreaking when you see that.

MANN: That reporter was digging along with them. And you could see, at the end, as she was doing what we call her piece to camera, her stand-up, she seemed unsettled by the experience. Nobody can go into a place like that and be untouched by it.

MALVEAUX: Yes. We certainly hope that there are some -- obviously, there will be some good stories as well; there are stories of heartbreak, there is loss and there is still just some hope as well.

MANN: Our live coverage continues right after this.



MANN: Welcome back. It is 38 minutes past the hour, 2:38 in the morning in Oklahoma. And before you, you can see the image there of the devastation that the tornado there wrought. I'm Jonathan Mann.

MALVEAUX: I'm Suzanne Malveaux; we're at the CNN Center in Atlanta. And of course, we're waiting for daybreak, just hours away there in Oklahoma. I want to bring you up to date now. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX (voice-over): In Moore, Oklahoma, they have been now clinging to the hope that rescuers might, just might find more survivors. Well, this hour what we know is that dozens of people have been killed by Monday's massive tornadoes; dozens more have now been hospitalized as well.

MANN: This latest tornado to strike the Oklahoma City metropolitan area has been rated an EF-4. That's the second strongest level on the enhanced Fujita scale that meteorologists use. But numbers like that obviously will only tell you so much. The victims have much more to convey.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've lost animals. We've lost everything. We don't have anything left. And my parents, I can't get hold of them. We have no coverage (ph). 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: A short time ago, I spoke to another young woman who also survived the nightmare. She is 21-year-old Madi Alexander, and she lived just a short distance away from the path the tornado cut through town. She watched as parents rush to a school after the tornado passed.


MADI ALEXANDER, TORNADO WITNESS (voice-over): I live, 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 to check on each other, and then everyone just flooded toward the elementary school. People were riding in the back of pickup trucks. People were grabbing their equipment and just getting to the school as fast as they possibly could.

MANN (voice-over): Now, the people of Oklahoma, the people of Moore have been through so many terrible storms.

What was it like in those first moments? Did people emerge panicked? Were they shocked or do people know the drill and just work through it?

MADI ALEXANDER (voice-over): I mean, this is the first time that I've ever been through a tornado this close. When I first came out of my house, people were saying this is worse than May 3rd, this is worse than May 3rd. And I just kept thinking oh, my God, this -- how could this possibly be worse than May 3rd?

But, you know, just seeing all of the destruction, seeing houses just flattened, neighborhoods just gone, it was -- it was terrible.

MANN (voice-over): 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.

MADI ALEXANDER (voice-over): Yes. I mean, my first -- my first reaction was just to try to block out my emotions and try to, you know, almost remain numb so I could focus on trying to help people, trying to -- people were trying to get in and out of neighborhoods. And so I was trying to give them directions.

And it was -- it was hard. And I'm still shaken up. But, you know, it's Oklahoma. And at first you're sad and then you're scared. And then 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.


MALVEAUX: We have some very sad news. We've been telling you about 40 additional bodies that have been en route to the medical examiner's office.

Well, we are now learning that about 20 of those bodies are, in fact, children. There have been missing children throughout the evening and early morning. And it certainly looks like they have been looking for survivors.

But we know that, of that count, 20 of those bodies are now children who have confirmed perishing because of that -- because of that tornado.

Scott Hines, he is a reporter for Oklahoma news station KFOR, and he spoke to CNN over the phone about all the chaos that happened, including the aftermath at that elementary school. We're talking about Plaza Towers Elementary School.


SCOTT HINES, KFOR (voice-over): Yes, it's complete, utter destruction. It's been horrific. It's been deadly. It's been devastating. Honestly, I've been in this market for about 10 years. And I've never seen anything like this before. And we see our fair share of tornadoes. I mean, this is Tornado Alley. But this, whatever this was, we've never seen.

And you're seeing the pictures for yourself. It resembles a war zone. Folks are shell-shocked. I'm shell-shocked. Cars thrown like toys; homes, businesses leveled. And this was one of those tornadoes that people were not underground. If they weren't seeking shelter underground or in a storm shelter, then the chances of surviving this tornado so grim, like slim to none.

Right now more than 50 confirmed dead. And that number is growing or expected to grow exponentially. We've been focusing on those several elementary schools and more, specifically, the Plaza Towers Elementary. And that's where 75 students and faculty took shelter.

That school was completely leveled, I mean wiped to the foundation. We witnessed rescuers pulling children trapped beneath the debris, third graders mainly. We were hearing that first, second, and third graders and possibly kindergartners as well, those students were not bussed from the school.

Minutes before the tornado hit, the older children at that elementary were bused to a nearby church that was out of the way of the direct path of this tornado.

The other children, though, were not. We're -- have confirmed that at least seven of those children, they were found at the bottom of the school in a pool of water, standing water. All of them had drowned. And it's likely that there are 20 to 30 -- and I get a little choked up talking about this. But there are 20 to 30 more little victims.


MANN: That was Scott Hines speaking to us earlier. And sadly, since he spoke with us, we have learned more about the casualty toll in this terrible storm. At best count, I think we're talking now about 91 people known to have been killed.

Of that 91, the way I am doing this -- and that is a grisly kind of math, I hope I'm wrong, but 27 at least were children, according to the latest information we have.

And one more thing to point out, it was almost exactly 12 hours ago. Those children would have left school a short time later, but they were in school still, not in their homes, and that's why, when that school was struck, there were so many youngsters inside.

MALVEAUX: And we don't know whether they were at the Plaza Tower Elementary School, but we do know that there were a high number of children who were missing there. And that -- we've heard from that reporter who said that, you know, that's where the parents showed up. That's where they came to look for their children.

Many of them have already left the scene. But I can't imagine what it would feel like to be one of those parents in those early morning hours, hearing the kinds of news that we just heard.

MANN: The parents have been told to go home, to go to neighborhood community centers, to go away from the scene you're now looking at, the scene of that school, where the search and rescue effort continues.

It is nearly 4:00 am on the East Coast of the United States. It is nearly 3:00 am in Moore, Oklahoma. And the grim work continues. We'll be back right after this.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MANN: Welcome back to CNN's continuing coverage of the historic and deadly tornado that struck the U.S. state of Oklahoma. It is 10 minutes to the hour. This is nearly 12 hours ago now.

As we've been telling you, at least 51 people are known to have been killed in Moore, Oklahoma, amid reports that another 40 bodies are being sent to the Oklahoma medical examiner's office. Here is a look now at how that storm grew in size and strength, exploding literally within minutes.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a very intense tornado now. We have watched it go from just a very thin rope-like tornado to now what looks to appear to be debris flying in the air from the base. Damon (ph)?

MALVEAUX (voice-over): So when you look at these pictures, you wonder just how big was this? Well, local media says that this tornado expanded to become more than two miles wide. Most tornadoes are less than 500 yards wide.

Tornado winds, they can exceed some 300 miles an hour; most only last for a few minutes. We don't know exactly how long this one stuck around, but it certainly was long enough to cause just catastrophic damage.


MALVEAUX: Moore, Oklahoma been hit by three rare monster tornadoes -- this is just in 14 years. We want to go to our meteorologist Ivan Cabrera for more on this.

And give us a sense of why this area, why have they been impacted so hard in this one particular community?

CABRERA: Well, I mean, we're in Tornado Alley. We're in the heart of Tornado Alley here. But the fact that we had an F-5 and an F-4, and now perhaps even an F-5 if it gets revised today over the same area is just very improbable here.

The blue line you see here, this is from May 8th, 2003. The one that folks in Moore remember, of course, is the one in 1999. That was that F-5 with those incredible winds, with the orange line here. This yellow line is what happened on Monday.

Melissa (ph), let's get in here; we're going to fly in and show the people at home what these -- look at these paths here, so similar. This is where it dropped down.

As we put this into motion, you'll be able to see that not much is here. Sure, we have a few farms here and we have mostly a rural area.

The tornado at its peak -- it peaked as soon as it got to the populated areas. It's just the worst-case scenario here. Here are the schools. We'll go a little bit further in. Again, the orange line back from '99. This is the yellow path from today. There is Briarwood. There is Plaza Towers Elementary School.

By the time it got here, this is when we had on our hands an F-4 and F-5, with winds perhaps as much or in excess of 200 miles per hour. And then literally -- I was watching this on the helicopters, the news choppers that were flying, the thing just roped out.

As soon as it passed the populated areas approaching the lake further to the east, at that point, well, it dissipated just like it did. All this happened in 40 minutes, 22 miles, incredible devastation, the kind of devastation that reminds me of Hurricane Andrew back in '92, and of earthquakes, not tornadoes here.

Of course, we had Joplin, my goodness. Here is the current setup. We still have a few tornado watch boxes out there. But at this point here, we are out of the woods in Moore. That threat, though, pushes east, as I've been mentioning -- Dallas, for example, the potential of getting hit today. Guys?

MALVEAUX: And do we know how long this tornado was on the ground? Do we have a sense of that?

CABRERA: It was on the ground for 22 miles, and it was on the ground for 40 minutes. The first few minutes, again, a very weak tornado, and then it just exploded as it hit Moore and turned into that monster EF-4, EF-5.

MANN: And today, Tuesday, we could be in for round three, Ivan Cabrera at the Weather Center watching it for us. Let's hope we're all a whole lot luckier. We'll be back with more right after this.



MANN (voice-over): The front page of "The Oklahoman" newspaper today, Tuesday, the headline comparing this tornado to the disaster that struck the Oklahoma City area 14 years ago.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): Tornadoes killed 44 people on May 3rd, 1999. And as the headline makes clear, the loss from Monday's storm far greater; at least 51 people confirmed dead so far, but some 40 bodies are on the way to the medical examiner.


MANN: We're approaching the top of the hour. It is, what, nearly 3:00 am In Moore, Oklahoma. Rescue workers still at work. They're desperately searching for survivors into the early hours of Tuesday. The damage done, the scene there is one of utter devastation.

MALVEAUX: For everyone in Oklahoma City area, it was really a day that you could say fairly was marked by horror and some despair.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): These are live pictures of a funnel cloud that has just developed. It appears to be on the ground in Oklahoma City. This all just minutes after the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for metropolitan Oklahoma City, an entire population of 171,000 people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This type of tornado will just level towns. Honestly, this is getting very scary. Right now this storm is -- oh, my goodness, it's almost -- it's three-quarters of a mile wide, and it's moving into eastern -- or western sides of Moore. And it is coming into highly, highly populated areas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Our worst fears are becoming realized this afternoon. We certainly hope everyone heeded the warnings. But it's a populated area. And we just fear that not everyone may have gotten the word. But we certainly hope that's the case.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just like on the movie "Twister." There was horses and stuff flying everywhere. There it's indescribable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And how are you feeling physically? Do you feel lucky?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, I feel pretty lucky, yes. I feel pretty lucky.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is the most disturbing picture to me, though, Jake (ph), where this is a school and the school had -- took a direct hit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just heard some lady down the street. She was screaming about the elementary school. So I headed that way; I got there.

It was -- it's pretty much gone. 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.