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Interview With Red Cross Worker In Oklahoma; First Pictures Of Damage From "Mile Wide" Twister

Aired May 20, 2013 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're going to go right now to Ken Garcia. He's with the American Red Cross in central Oklahoma, if you're just tuning in. Obviously a large, two-mile-wide reportedly from our affiliate KFOR tornado has hit south of Oklahoma City, and obviously, wrecking a path of destruction.

Ken Garcia is with the American Red Cross in Central Oklahoma.

Ken, where are you, what are you seeing and what is recommendations, your advice for who are tuning who are in the area?

KEN GARCIA, AMERICAN RED CROSS (via telephone): Well, obviously, the number one thing is, if anyone is watching, get into shelter immediately. There's no reason to be playing around with this kind of storm. From what we are seeing, here in our office in Oklahoma City, we are just to the north of where this actual storm is hitting. And we've actually had the sirens go off a few times, and our staff and volunteers here in the office have had to go into the storm shelters as this storm continues to push through Oklahoma City.

So this is not something to play around with. Just get into that storm shelter and just stay in there until you hear this storm has finally passed. And just make sure you stay safe. This is a big storm based on what we see on the images right now on the screen.

TAPPER: And Ken, what have you heard from on the ground there in terms of the needs of local people? Obviously this is going on right now. Are there Red Cross centers in the immediate area of Moore? Are individuals getting to shelters?

GARCIA: The closest office we have would be obviously Oklahoma City's office. And we do have one in Norman -- by the airport in Norman. So this tornado is moving through between both of our offices in this area, but it is moving towards where we had the tornado yesterday that moved through Cleveland County and moved into Potawatomi County toward Shawnee.

So our volunteers and our staff and our offices know what to do. They've got their designated areas to go. If they hear the sirens, they're heading into those protected areas. Again, we just advise everyone to do the exact same thing. As far as need of concern right now, we're just waiting for the weather to clear out. We're watching it just like you are. As soon as the storm passes and it's deemed safe to do so, our volunteers will go out and start assessing what the need is. We'll get out there, identify the need for shelters and whatever will be needed in the area.

Obviously our hearts are going out to those who are getting impacted by this. But, again be, as you mentioned, get into shelter if you are in the path of this storm. That is our biggest recommendation at this moment.

TAPPER: All right, Ken Garcia with the American Red Cross in central Oklahoma, we'll touch base with you later.

We'll go back to KFOR. You see this horrific image of this immense tornado, reportedly anywhere one to two miles wide touching down south of Oklahoma City. We'll go back to our affiliate KFOR in Oklahoma City.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Back to Bob Moore, Chopper 4. Go John.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. There it is, Mike. Fixing to cross Sooner Road right now, coming into that annexed part of the lake that they annexed. Luckily for the time being, there's not -- there are very few houses in here, if any, I don't think. I think the city has bought most of them out.

But it's continuing to track straight east. As you can see, this thing hasn't decreased in size any. I'm actually kind of getting a little closer than I want to be to it right, but this thing is sucking us in at about --

TAPPER: If you're just tuning in, you're watching live coverage of a one- to two-mile wide tornado that touched down south of Oklahoma City. Population 600,000. Those inside the warning area for this tornado are 170,000.

We have on the phone right now Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin. Governor, obviously we're warning all of those in the path of this tornado to go inside, go to the cellars, do not go near the windows. What else can you tell us about what's going on there and your advice for those watching who are in the storm's path?

GOV. MARY FALLIN, OKLAHOMA (on the phone): Absolutely. They need to be weather-aware and take these storms very seriously. The tornado that's on the ground right now, as you mentioned, is huge. It has hit through some populated areas of our city in Moore, Oklahoma.

It's actually kind of ironic that we had a major tornado many years ago called the May 3rd tornado that wiped out a good portion of Moore, Oklahoma. And this is coming along that same path where that tornado went through that actually did kill some people at that time and took out several neighborhoods and businesses.

But this looks like a massive tornado. I'm at the capital, which isn't too far from the town, about 20 miles away, and our sirens had gone off here at the capital several times. We're hunkered down here at the capital watching the storm itself and making sure that we're getting information out to the people in these various communities.

I know our law enforcement has gone up and down the highways trying to get people off the roads and gone up to some businesses and trying to get people out of movie theaters. And there's a school that was in that vicinity and they've been talking about making sure the schoolchildren are protected. I haven't received word yet what happened with the school, if anything at all.

But these are very serious storms. The conditions are just right for these big funnels to develop. Yesterday, of course, was a very tough day also.

TAPPER: Governor you referred to the May 3, 1999, storm that was the deadliest in Oklahoma City history. Cost of a billion dollars, 36 killed. You mentioned that a school is in the path of this tornado. We also hear that a GM plant and an Air Force base are in the path of this storm. Is that correct?

FALLIN: That's right. That's over in the vicinity of Tinker Air Force base, where we have one of the largest maintenance and repair facilities in our nation for the Air Force. And the GM plant closed many years ago, but the building is still there. And there are a lot of defense contractors that are in that building complex. And that's a major industrial area where you have a lot of the aerospace industry. So, it's a very industrialized area, and that tornado is in that vicinity, heading that direction.

TAPPER: Governor, we heard that there was barely 20 to 30 minutes from storm warning to tornado warning to touchdown of this tornado, this horrifically large tornado that you're seeing live pictures of for those of you just tuning in.

This area of Oklahoma, they have sirens, they are used to emergency preparedness. Is 20 to 30 minutes enough time for somebody to get to safety from storm warning to actual touchdown of tornado?

FALLIN: That's a decent lead time on these storms, but we've been warning people since yesterday to be weather aware and to watch for these storms, to keep radios handy, phone apps on weather services and certainly to keep the news on. I have to say that our media has done a tremendous job in saving lives, both today and yesterday by keeping track of the storms and staying on the air and warning people exactly where the storms were headed.

I know as I went down today and toured damaged areas around Shawnee where it hit a trailer park area that there were lives saved because they were able to listen to the news itself and to be able to track where the storms are going and to move towards shelters themselves. In other areas of the state, too, I had many people tell me thank goodness for the weathermen giving us details as to where the storms were headed.

But it's been a hard day. We lost a couple people. We've had around 39 injuries as of yesterday. And we know we've lost a lot of homes and businesses, and of course we're anxious to see what the damage is with this current tornado that just touched down around Moore.

TAPPER: It does look as though, from these pictures and not from anything other than the pictures I'm looking at right now, it does look as though the tornado has dissipated. Of course we'll wait for official word on that.

But, Governor, when you referred to the lost people, are you referring to from the tornadoes previous to today or today's tornado?

FALLIN: The loss was from yesterday --

TAPPER: Yesterday's tornado.

FALLIN: Yesterday's loss. And we don't even have a count right now on what's going on with this tornado, but we're certainly monitoring it. It happened very quickly.

I got back to the capital from touring the damage just a little over probably about an hour and a half ago, and the skies had lots of clouds but no storm clouds. And within 20 minutes of when I walked in the capital, a big thunderstorm had gone up really quickly. And then all of a sudden, the tornado sirens went off twice here in the building within an hour after I had gotten back into this location.

So we anticipate that these storms are going to continue to build across Oklahoma. They're still a lot of red on the radar, which means they're severe storms. And we want to make sure we're doing everything that we can to get the emergency personnel out.

I have to say the areas that I toured today, there were so many people out, neighbors helping neighbors, people who left and took off work that were in the communities, helping people go through their debris. I went to one house location. I bet there were about 50 people there in that vicinity helping a certain family. And they had chain saws and lifting up walls and picking up pictures and sentimental-type items from the homes. Lots of law enforcement.

Unfortunately, we do have some experience with disasters in Oklahoma when they do occur. And I think we have the best people ever in the nation that will come together and help and provide food and water and certainly provide the volunteer help. And we have a great emergency management office that's always right on the spot immediately after some disaster occurs.

TAPPER: It does look as though the tornado has dissipated. It was on the ground for roughly 35 minutes. We're told there are at least 7,600 individuals without power, if you're looking at the TV right now. The shots on the left are live. I'm assuming the shots on the right are from moments ago. That is not live images on the right. Those are live images on the left. We don't want to alarm people by showing them old pictures of tornadoes, of course.

Governor Fallin, of course, now the work begins of cleaning up and repairing. But also we should, of course, remind viewers that Oklahoma City has been struck more than two dozen times by two or more tornadoes in the same day. So, even if this tornado is gone - and again, the picture on the left is from moments ago, that not a live picture you're looking at on the left. That is from earlier today. The picture on the right is live. The tornado does appear to be gone. But people should still heed the advice of those who suggesting we're not out of the woods yet in that area. Is that right?

FALLIN: That's right. We need to pay attention to the weather. Still very dark outside. The other thing, once a tornado does through, it's still very, very dangerous because there's debris on the ground, there's power lines that will be down. There's certainly a lot of glass and nails and boards and gas leaks and various things that you have to be careful about when you enter into one of these neighborhoods. And many times, people want to rush up to a certain neighborhood. But law enforcement has to get control of the situation to where people don't put themselves in danger by trying to go up and help their neighbors.

Boy, the sirens are just going off for a third time, just now starting again here in Oklahoma City. So must be something else coming back around.

TAPPER: You're looking at live -- I'm sorry, you're not looking at live pictures. You're looking at pictures from moments ago of a very large tornado that touched down just south of Oklahoma City in the town of Moore. Right now, we're told that almost 8,000 homes in Oklahoma City and the Oklahoma area are without power.

Governor Fallin, we're going to let you go. I'm sure you have other things to do beyond talking to us. But we're going to check back with you, and we want to hear more about your citizens and the recovery effort. And our best wishes and prayers to you and the citizens of Moore and Oklahoma City.

FALLIN: Well, thank you very much. I appreciate it. Looks like we've got another tornado possibly getting ready to develop in that same vicinity, so they've got the sirens going off again. But thank you very much. We appreciate your help.

TAPPER: All right, God bless, Governor. Thank you so much.

We'll go to Chad Myers in Atlanta. Chad, tell us what happened, how large this tornado was, how long it was on the ground in the Oklahoma City area. Now you hear Governor Fallin telling us she hears sirens for a possible third event going on. What can you tell us about that?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: There is a new tornado warning now in effect for the Lake Stanley/Draper area east all the way to McLeod. Now, that is still south of Oklahoma City proper, but that's the new tornado warning that was just issued.

We are getting the first pictures from KFOR of the damage. And we saw live on television, Jake, we saw that tornado what we call rope out. Literally turn into just a small rope. And then it completely dissipated. So what the KFOR chopper did is say, okay, this storm is probably over. It's left the metro area proper, the heaviest populated area. Let's fly to the west. Let's fly, let's see what this did. That's what you're seeing there on the right of your screen. That would be the damage that's coming out of Moore. I've seen an awful lot of emergency vehicles, a lot of flashing lights, and you can begin to see just some of the damage, the homes there on the right with some of the roofs gone. I can see shingles missing. And as we fly closer and closer to the damage, this was on the ground -- I would estimate in the neighborhood of about 30 minutes. It went all the way from the H.E. Bailey Turnpike northwest of what would be New Castle, Oklahoma, across the H.E. Bailey, across I-35, right through the town of Moore. And that's what it looks like right now.

TAPPER: Incredible. Now you see a helicopter, live footage from KFOR, looking at what happened.

MYERS: That's what it looks like.

TAPPER: Oh, my God. It's horrific.

MYERS: That's what EF-3, EF-4, approaching 200-mile-per-hour winds will do to a home. And, unlike yesterday, where we didn't see panic and we didn't see people scrambling to find other people, today we do. These are stick-built homes. These are not mobile homes. These are on the ground, on slabs. That tornado rolled right through that town. There you see. That could even be the medical center. Right over the top of this large building. Look at all the debris left and right from the tornado damage itself. It literally looks like a bowling ball rolled right through and over the town, destroying everything in its path.

Those people experienced winds of 140 to 160 miles per hour, a lot like what people felt in Homestead when it was the Hurricane Andrew. The winds blew for hours in Andrew. Here, the winds only blew for just a few minutes, but it's the same type of damage. The struts, gone. The trusses gone of the roofs. You can look right on down to those people's homes and literally right into their lives. There will be a lot of cleanup here.

Obviously we can pick up pieces, we can pick up the homes, we can pick up things. But it's the people now. It's the safety of the people there that we have to worry about. Many times, as the governor was talking about -- I had talked about this earlier today -- more people can be injured after the storm trying to dig through debris. There are still power lines that are live. There are still many, many boards with nails sticking out. There are still so many dangers outside that you don't realize because 15 minutes ago those dangers weren't there -- Jake.

TAPPER: We were just looking at what looks to be a movie theatre. This is the area south of Oklahoma City, Moore, Oklahoma, population 56,000, just outside of Oklahoma City, population 600,000. A category EF-3 to EF-4 tornado touched down. As you mentioned, it looked like a bowling ball rolled through the town. You can see the devastating path.

We saw earlier the helicopter from KFOR, our affiliate in Oklahoma City buzzed closer and you could see people desperately trying to lift debris up, no doubt trying to save individuals, calling for help inside. Just for some perspective because when you talk about 150-mile-per-hour winds, a lot of people who haven't experienced that don't know what that means necessarily.

MYERS: Jake, look at this.

TAPPER: Absolutely devastating.

MYERS: Those homes are missing. There's literally right through the middle of that town nothing left of those homes exempt maybe a wall or two. I see slabs right on the left side of the screen. There are literally just concrete slabs left, all of the walls completely gone.

TAPPER: This is a suburb of Oklahoma City, Moore, Oklahoma, that you're looking at right now. Live pictures after a huge tornado anywhere from one to two miles wide touched down south of Oklahoma City. There is now another tornado warning for a different area outside Oklahoma City.

The Lake Stanley/Draper area and east to McCloud outside, the picture on the left right now is taken from a helicopter, obviously, that was earlier today. The tornado touched down right before the hour, right before 4:00 p.m. Eastern. We have a helicopter pilot on the phone right now from KFOR. We'll listen to what he has to say as he surveys this horrific image.

UNIDENTIFIED PILOT, KFOR (via telephone): It's completely destroyed. The houses are destroyed. They're completely levelled. We're going to just stay right here in this area. This is the hardest hit area. Police have folks stopped right here on Santa Fe in between 19th Street and 4th Street. This is by far the hardest hit area, as you can see.

We have Moore police out there trying to find everybody or doing what they do best, rendering aid. And all the kids are running. We'll stay here for a little bit and see if we get some damages or if we get a report of how everybody's doing. I'm just going to talk to you as we kind of stay on this shot.

As we continue to look back towards the west, this whole area is just completely demolished. Every house in this area is levelled. I'm fixing to cross -- I'm just north of 149th Street. And this whole area right here, this neighborhood in between Santa Fe and Western, police are driving through looking for people. I can hear you, Linda. Can you hear me?

Go back right, Travis. Right out my door, Travis. There's another school that's trashed. Linda, let me -- let me show you another school. It's right out my door. Travis, if you keep coming around, perfect, now straight down and to your left, right there. That's another school, Linda, and that one looks like -- I don't know what to say.

That one looks harder hit than any of them before. As a parent, this is hard to report on, but we're going to stay in the air. We're going to show you -- I mean, these pictures tell everything. The Orr Family farm, if you're familiar with that, it's going to be right out the left as --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- two schools destroyed in Moore, Oklahoma along with a huge section of residential housing. If we go back to those shots in the future, you'll see that the ground literally is nothing but mad. There is nothing on the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looks like what we saw on May 3rd of 1999.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via telephone): I'm told Plaza Towers Elementary School. I'm unsure of this other school here. It's going to be on like 149th and in between Ken and Western. If you're familiar with the Orr family farm area, it's right behind that. The family farm is trashed. This whole area between, like, Pen, you have Western and Santa Fe, those three miles or two mile sections right there, guys, everything is levelled for almost a whole mile. And we're just -- Travis is kind of showing you some wide shots here. This is unbelievable.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: John, this is reminiscent of the May 3, 1999, storm that moved through Moore and literally tore out entire neighborhoods.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's exactly what it looks like.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Same thing right there. We pray to God that those people were somehow underground when that hit. On May 3, 1999, people were diving into manhole covers trying to get away from the storm if they didn't have underground shelter.

Mike Morgan was warning these folks at least an hour -- at least 30 minutes before the storm hit to leave the area, if they did not have underground sheltering in place. We hope that that's the case. We hope the death toll does not resemble that May 3rd tornado.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mike, was that the exact path of the May 3rd tornado?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was along the exact path. Then as it came deeper into Moore, it's toward the southern side of the May 3rd path. I don't want to make comparisons too much to May 3rd in terms of -- what I'll say is I believe this tornado is wider and I think we're going to find that there are many more structures that have been hit compared to May 3rd, what we're seeing live from Bob Moore Chopper 4. The May 3rd tornado took areas not developed, and I think the total was 6,000-some-odd structures destroyed or damaged. I believe the amount may be more with this particular tornado today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you look at that scene of destruction there, and the small figures of those rescuers working frantically here. Where do you begin? That's the question. Where do you begin on something like this?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mike, how long was that tornado on the ground? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it was on the ground for just under one hour, Linda. It set down just southwest of New Castle and then went to that large wedge. And I think the peak width on it was about a mile and a half wide. That's one thing I notice looking at these pictures is the debris path appears to be significantly wider through Moore than May 3, 1999. And, again, most of this path is just on the southern sides of the May 3rd path.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just saw somebody there obviously in distress, as any of us would be, walking upon a scene like that.

TAPPER: You're looking at some of the scenes of devastation from Moore, Oklahoma, South of Oklahoma city a one to two-mile-wide tornado cut an area of devastation this area hasn't seen in more than a decade. A lot of the reporters and anchors referring to the May 3, 1999 storm, those storm trackers saying this tornado was actually wider than that storm, which killed 36 people, the one from 1999.

We still don't know anything in terms of the death toll with this one. Hopefully, there won't be one. We saw two schools destroyed and dozens and dozens of homes. I want to bring back Chad Myers, who's at our Weather Center in Atlanta.

Chad, we know that there is another tornado warning outside Oklahoma City in the Lake Stanley/Draper area east of McCloud. Obviously people should still be on alert for any other tornadoes, weather activity. What have you learned more about this horrific, horrific scene as we see the individuals come from their shelters and try to make sense of what just happened.

MYERS: I do think, as you look at this, you sigh, you -- as the father of an 8-year-old, you take it very hard. But we do have still tornadoes on the ground, Jake, and they are going to be very close to McCloud, although still not the size of this storm. That's another south eastern suburb of Oklahoma City.

We have a tornado warning now to the northwest of Tulsa. We're talking about Barnesdale and Ramona, a small tornado, but still very significant if it hits your home. To the east of Marlo, we had a little tornado on the ground, I believe that has lifted and near Wareeka in Oklahoma. These are all tornado warnings. Those are all warnings where people are still in danger at this hour.

Looking at this, you may let your guard down, but if you're in those areas you're under the gun as well. Jake, I saw cars in a school. I saw cars with no place left for the owner inside. We talked earlier about this when this was on the ground. We tried to describe this as a large tornado, a devastating tornado. I don't think those words really can describe what you're looking at.

TAPPER: No. It's devastating. And of course I don't know if they even have power in this area, but obviously to anyone who is in the area of Oklahoma City, keep in mind that a lot of death and injury can happen after the storm goes away from recovery efforts, from debris, from power lines that are live. So please be careful and be safe. Do not think necessarily that the worst is over. Please be on guard obviously as Chad Myers in our Weather Center in Atlanta just noted, there is still yet another tornado warning in the Oklahoma City area. We talked to Governor Mary Fallin who talked about how alarms were going off where she was, taking shelter. There's a fire that we see.

This is the kind of thing that happens in the wake of a tornado with power lines on and immense danger still present even if the tornado itself is not. Chad, you've covered a lot of tornadoes like this. This is clearly one of the most destructive I've seen in quite a while.

MYERS: You know, I worked in Oklahoma City from '89 to '91. I saw my share of 2s and 3s and 4s, even a 5 that took the asphalt off the highway, took bark off trees. But I never experienced a tornado this size going through a populated area. You have to understand there are a lot of things to miss in Oklahoma, and that's part of the reason why people love Oklahoma.

There's a lot of open space for you to go play in and look. There's a lot of sky. But when you realize that all of a sudden now we're not talking about wide-open land that is a wheat field. We're talking about lives. We're talking about hundreds of thousands of people here being affected.

TAPPER: We're looking right now, if I can interrupt, obviously at the image of a boat on the top of someone's home. This is the path of devastation that this tornado just touched down just before 4:00 Eastern. Just before 3:00 Oklahoma time. You're looking at the path of destruction from this tornado that hit and carved this path south of Oklahoma City.

MYERS: This is the most disturbing picture to me, though, Jake, where this is a school, and the school took a direct hit. It truly did, the Plaza Towers Elementary School. There was another school that took a hard hit, but there are people looking for, I guess we would assume, children or of course the faculty. I'm not sure if the school was left out or not.

We pray they were somewhere else or at least underground because this is a devastating hit to a school. Obviously schools even when we were going to school we had tornado drills, even in Buffalo, New York, I had a tornado drill. Not thinking we'd ever get one. But the people here, they know what to do. They know where to put the children. Let's hope they're all safe.

TAPPER: There were two schools hit according to our affiliate KFOR in Oklahoma City. One of them was the Plaza Towers Elementary School. Again, we do not know if students were there today. We don't know if they were in the storm center. There's so much we don't know. It's unclear just because we're looking at wreckage of a school that that necessarily means anything one way or another.

We're coming upon the hour, and I'm about to throw it to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." But for those just tuning in, we're looking at this horrific, horrific wreckage from a tornado that touched down outside Oklahoma City, south into the town of Moore, Oklahoma, a suburb of Oklahoma, 56,000 people live there.

You're looking at one of the results of one of the most destructive tornadoes in recent memory, just shredded parts of the Oklahoma City area. And now we're left for the images -- left with the images of a desperate and frantic rescue effort, which were only just beginning in schools and homes and businesses that are completely gone.

And for so many of these people, the hard work is only just beginning. Wolf Blitzer is in "THE SITUATION ROOM" with continuing coverage. I'm Jake Tapper, and this has been THE LEAD -- Mr. Blitzer.