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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Six Dead From The Tornado In Moore, Oklahoma; "Cries For Help" Heard In School Debris; Oklahoma Tornado Coverage; Interview With Rep. Tom Cole

Aired May 20, 2013 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, we begin with breaking news, a massive path of destruction across a suburb of Oklahoma City. It was a two- mile wide tornado that has torn through this area and happened late this afternoon.

Nearly 200,000 people were in the path of this storm. As we said, it was in a suburb of Oklahoma City. The National Weather Service believes that this storm was packing winds of between 166 and 200 miles an hour. Two schools and an entire swath of homes were completely levelled.

When you look at these pictures, you won't be surprised that locals in Oklahoma who have been covering this story have said this is the worst they have seen and in one person's time 18 years covering tornadoes. We're now hearing that six fatalities from the tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, are on the way to the office of the chief medical officer and examiner.

This is just in the past few moments. And with all this devastation, it is horrific that we're hearing about these deaths. But we have been hopeful that perhaps would have been a miracle. As we said, about six right now reported. You're looking at pictures of the elementary school where they are still looking for survivors.

The Oklahoma University Medical Center has 20 patients, 12 adults and eight children right now are in trauma rooms. A helicopter pilot for CNN affiliate, KFOR, describes the damage as he saw it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: All right, that was the Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma. The picture we were just showing you a moment ago, one of two elementary schools reported hit by the tornadoes. And our affiliate, KFOR, is reporting there were 75 students and staff at that Plaza Towers School when the storm hit. Now the rescuers are still combing through the debris right now and according to our affiliate, students in kindergarten through third grade are unaccounted for at this time. A reporter there described that scene.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do know that third grade class was, you know, in a hallway at a classroom taking refuge from the storm and that part of the building is completely gone. There are no walls standing of the school. It is wiped to the foundation. There is nothing more than a big pile of debris.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Nick Valencia is live from Moore, Oklahoma, right now. Nick, I know you're just a few blocks away from the Plaza Tower School. What does it look like to you?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's completely ripped apart this neighborhood, Erin. It's demolished. It's devastated. When we got here, we got here before some of the first responders. In fact, some of the residents we saw when we first arrived on the scene, they were looking for their loved ones, a man, a young man and his friends. They were looking for his house. He couldn't find his home.

It had been completely blown away. If you look behind me, the devastation just stretches as far as the eye can see. Just in the distance there, I don't know if you can make it out from our signal, it's kind of rough, but there is smoke billowing in the distance. That's the direction of where that elementary school is that was levelled and hit very, very hard by the tornado.

All around us, Erin, you see these homes, walls torn down, telephone poles put on their side, cars with windows blown out. I'm standing in a field littered with debris of the homes. I want to bring in a couple residents here who were in a storm shelter at the time the tornado hit. They took refuge. Emily, tell me what happened.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were in the storm shelter and it sounds like a freight train coming through. And your ears get all clogged up. You can't hear anything but the tornado, and the handle was jiggling on the shelter. It cracked the shelter.

VALENCIA: There were reports that there will be going to be another round of severe weather today. Were you guys prepared for this? Were you guys ready for this to come through this area?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, not really.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were in there for a few minutes before, you know, we heard all the noise coming through. Like she said, it sounds like a freight train, and we immediately got underneath the stairs. And then that's when everything just started shaking and the shelter cracked. I mean, it was like the top of the shelter. VALENCIA: The wind was so hard it cracked the shelter?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, like inside, like where we were.

VALENCIA: Most importantly, how are you guys doing right now? How are you coping with this?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were shaken up. We're going to go to a shelter. I need to make sure my other one is OK right now.

VALENCIA: You don't know where your son is?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At South Moore Heights.

VALENCIA: How old is your son?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's 17. My 12-year-old is OK though. They just got him so I'm good.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Her 4-year-old actually goes to Plaza Towers. We were over there searching for her for how long -- an hour. We got her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, she was safe, but there are still kids trapped.

VALENCIA: Emily, we're hearing a lot of devastating reports about Plaza Tower and how hard it was hit. You just came back from there. What was it like? Set the scene for us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is the back of the school was still like the walls were standing. Everything else was -- there's cars thrown on top of teachers. Cheyenne's teacher said that a car was, like, laying on top of her and she was laying on top of Cheyenne, which was her daughter.

VALENCIA: Our thoughts and prayers are with both of you. We're glad you survived. You guys have been through a lot tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

VALENCIA: Erin, these are residents that really put a human face to what's going on here. Behind me, the neighborhood is just wrecked. We're on the edge of a cemetery. We had to take back roads to get here. I-35 was shut down. We drove through flooded streets. Traffic lights were out. We saw first responders speeding.

In fact, the traffic is so bad. Traffic was impeding the first responders. So we're hoping that everybody in this neighborhood is OK. But as I mentioned, residents just sort of wandering around this area with blank stares and bewildered by what ripped through here -- Erin.

BURNETT: Nick, we're hearing their story just brings home the fact that when you see devastation, so many are unaccounted for. They're saying still running to look for their children. I mean, it's just -- incredible what these people are dealing with. I know that back in 1999, there was a storm that went through Oklahoma that has been known for the ferocity ever since. And this one is at least twice as big as that storm. I know in that storm nearly 50 people died.

VALENCIA: We were listening to local reports on the way into town, Erin. Local news reports were comparing the damage and catastrophe here, saying it was maybe two times or three times as bad that's 1999 tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, that cost more than $1 billion in damage here locally. Residents were talking about that.

In fact, when we were watching this storm develop and watching the tornado and that severe storm cell develop, residents said we were talking about that. They brought that up. They said this could be as bad as 1999. The funnel cloud was so enormous and just kept going. It just kept going.

You tend to see tornadoes often time they hop scotch through land and an area. This tornado just went right through this neighborhood, all around me, behind me. Just all around homes destroyed in this area, levelled -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right, Nick, thank you very much. We're going to be checking back in with Nick. But those women and how they're still looking for their children who are in school bring how frightening this is and how little we know right now about the human toll that these storms will take.

Let me bring in Chad Myers right now. Chad, obviously there are a lot of places under threat tonight. This happens. The storms we've been watching over the past week, right, when we saw them in Northern Texas and now this hitting an area that has 200,000 people. It brings home the power of these storms in a way that we have not experienced.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know, you look at Oklahoma on a map or go to Google and you do the satellite and you see a lot of land. You don't see many cities, but the cities you see are right in the way of a tornado like this. Eventually a tornado is going to get there. It is almost like a random event.

There is no such thing as a bubble over a city or a heat island that is going to stop the city from getting hit that just doesn't exist. It's been a long time since we had a big tornado hit a big town like this. There is a tornado on the ground here southwest of Dallas, 100 miles southwest of Dallas, but it's on the ground near Blanket and Comanche.

A tornado on the ground East of Henrietta in North Texas and one on the ground north of Ardmore so this isn't over even though we don't have them in big cities and we don't have them on TV. No helicopters flying to show these tornadoes. There are still people being affected, not in the town of Tulsa. That has moved away.

But a brand new watch has just been issued for St. Louis for many more hours to come, any little cell like that one is by itself. They can become super cells. They're not arguing with any other cells. They use all the energy for themselves. They begin to spin like a top. We do know this tornado was at least an EF-4, 166 to 200 miles per hour when it was on the ground.

I have seen homes and I've seen many -- I've been watching these pictures for now hours. I've seen homes that are completely gone. There's nothing left except a slab of the foundation that they were built on. That indicates it could possibly be above 200 miles per hour, getting toward that EF-5 number. The Weather Service is only watching the aerials at this point. They'll be on the ground tomorrow to make sure.

BURNETT: Chad, how big is this relative to the historical one in Norman? This is tornado alley, we get tornadoes here, but this one, you know, twice as big as the now mythical 1999 storm in Oklahoma. I'm just thinking on Wednesday, it's going to be the two-year anniversary of Joplin where 161 people lost their lives. When you look at what we're seeing right now, relative to history, the pictures seem to indicate this is close to unprecedented. Do the facts support that?

MYERS: Absolutely. Something else that is unique about this storm, Erin, is that about 8 miles west of where it touched down, there was nothing. There was a thunderstorm and then 5 minutes later, there was a funnel. Five minutes after that, we were EF-2 and then 5 minutes after that, we were EF-4. This developed so quickly. The warning system worked, but the first Moore tornado in 1999, people had an hour's notice.

This was on the ground for an hour before Moore. This time it was on the ground for 8, 10, 12 minutes before people had to get underground if they wanted to survive. That is the difference. That's what caused this to be the unique one. It didn't last a long time. It was 30 miles, but it didn't give us a lot of warning, didn't get on the ground long enough for those people in a major city to get out of the way.

Sometimes you want to drive out of the way. That's the worst thing you can possibly do with stoplights and traffic. You wouldn't want to be trapped in your car with a tornado like that.

BURNETT: That is incredible, 8 to 12 minutes warning. Again with the unfolding story we're watching with the two elementary schools and the one Park Towers as we've been reporting, they have not yet accounted for all the children. You're looking there at that school where they're trying to find those children. But people had said, gosh, how could that have happened?

You just heard Chad explain 8 to 12 minutes of warning. Obviously, we are all hoping for some miraculous outcome for those children as we follow that story tonight. We continue our breaking news coverage of the devastation in Oklahoma OUTFRONT. That elementary school, desperate search and rescue mission under way. A representative from the Red Cross is going to be OUTFRONT with an update on what's happening at that school next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BURNETT: And our breaking news tonight. A desperate search for survivors under way after a tornado has torn through Oklahoma City tonight. This is very much a developing story. A two-mile wide storm already in Moore, Oklahoma. Officials say six people were killed. But at this point, we do not know the number. We do not know where those six people were when the tornado struck.

But we do know this. An elementary school was among the buildings that took a direct hit. And you're looking right now at that elementary school. Rescuers spent the last couple of hours pulling students from the debris. So there are survivors. But we do not know where some of the children are. Witnesses tell CNN that teachers were huddled in closets with their students when the storm hit. As we've just reported, often with tornadoes, can you get an hour-long warning. In this case, they had eight to 12 minutes. Students were also told to try to hang on to the walls to survive.

And we are trying to get an update for you on those children. As you can see, the first responders working desperately to find them and save them.

Ken Garcia is OUTFRONT right now. He's from the Red Cross and he's in Oklahoma City. Ken, obviously, this situation right now is urgent and desperate one as they try to find these children. What is your understanding about how many children, how many people are missing right now in Oklahoma City?

KEN GARCIA, OKLAHOMA CITY RED CROSS (on the phone): Right now we don't have that information as far as how many people are missing. Right now, we are in the process of trying to determine how we can help find a place for people to go after these storms have moved through. Our emergency management and our first responders are working tirelessly right now as you can see on the screen, getting in there and doing their search and rescue right now.

And our main priority is to be a relief organization and make sure people have somewhere to go. And we have a shelter that is open in Oklahoma City at the St. Andrew's Church. That is on Southwest 119 in Oklahoma City. The actual address is 2727 Southwest 119. And it's also a family reunification center. The city of Oklahoma City is calling it that. So, that's where we're encouraging folks to go. And for those wanting to check on loved ones, we have a website. It is safeandwell.org. And the word "and" is spelled out. That is safeandwell.org.

BURNETT: All right. Ken, thank you very much. I hope everyone got that information for those who watching in Oklahoma City. And we know that many people are still looking for family members, for friends and for children and schools. We have the information there which will make available on our website as well.

I want to bring in Congressman Tom Cole now. He joins me on the phone. Congressman, you live in Moore, Oklahoma. I know you're on your way home right now. What you are hearing about that rescue effort that we're looking at live for our viewers where they're trying to find the children between kindergarten and third grade at the Plaza Towers Elementary School?

REP. TOM COLE (R), OKLAHOMA (on the phone): It's just devastating. Mile-and-a-half from my house. I know the school very well. And the people who live there.

The -- I've been this touch with both local officials and the governor's office. And sadly, we're very good at this. You know, we -- these are not infrequent occurrences. Moore has been hit four times in 15 years. In '98, '99, '03 and now, this one. And so people on the ground, the police officers and the firefighters, first responders are very good. And the neighboring areas mobilize, Oklahoma City and surrounding areas very quickly. The governor's got the National Guard is deployed. They're very good at this. And frankly, people are excellent at responding as friends and neighbors, going out to help.

We know there are injuries. I'm not going to speculate too much beyond that. But I've lived through enough of these things. You see something this size, even when people do all the right things, if you're not underground and, you know, an F-4 or F-5 packs a tremendous punch. And so we can get out of this with only injuries, that will be an unbelievable blessing.

BURNETT: Yes, well, we're just learning that this storm could be different from all those other ones you mentioned in that in other storms there's been some warning. Maybe up to an hour about the -

COLE: Well, there was in '99 -

BURNETT: -- in this case, eight to 12 minutes of warning

COLE: Yes, that is actually normal. In this case, what -- the National Storm Center is just south of there. They gave us about 16 minutes. They're the best in the world. They're very good. We actually get tremendous help from them.

But that's not -- I mean, most tornadoes are not like '99, which stayed on the ground for 80 miles and did over an hour. So you're not going to get an hour worth of warning very often. We certainly didn't in 2003, when we followed almost the same path as it did in '99.

This is actually very close. That's one of the unusual things. In '99, we were told it was a once in 400-year event that you'd have one that closely. And this is pretty close again. So, we just clearly have had a tremendously difficult situation here over a number of years.

BURNETT: All right. Congressman Cole, thank you very much. And we wish you the best of luck as you head back to your home, as he said just a mile-and-a-half away from the Plaza Towers Elementary School. Governor Fallin of Oklahoma just told one of our affiliates, KOKH, that she believes as much damage has been done here in the Oklahoma City area as was done in Joplin. And Joplin, of course, 161 people died in that horrible tragedy, which was two years ago this Wednesday.

Still to come, a storm chaser on the ground right now coming up to Moore, Oklahoma. Comes OUTFRONT with what he is seeing. The pictures of watching this approach are some of most stunning you'll see.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: The FAA is confirming to CNN right now that there is now a temporary flight restriction over the schools in Moore, Oklahoma. The FAA says police requested this so that emergency officials on the ground could hear people who are calling for help, who are buried under the rubble and need help being rescued. And they didn't want the interference from the helicopters in the air. That gives you a sense how desperate and rapid and urgent this situation is on the ground in the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore.

Joining me on the phone is Jerry Lojka. He's with the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management. And Jerry, what can you tell us about this rescue effort? I mean, obviously, that gives everyone a sense of just how urgent this is. But you believe at this point you have a lot of people still missing, right?

JERRY LOJKA, OKLAHOMA DEPT. OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT (on the phone): Oh, yes. At this point, we're still trying to coordinate with family members who aren't able to locate loved ones. The search and rescue teams are faced with a monumental task of going to every home and picking the sticks off and trying to find if there's a shelter there, if there are people trapped inside and it's house-to-house, board by board. It is a monumental task when there are so many homes.

When a storm is a mile-and-a-quarter wide and it tracks across the entire width of the city, there are thousands of people that are affected. And so we've got to find family members and verify it. And now the conditions, we're going to be losing light here in an hour and a half, will become more difficult. Like you said, they're going to rely on every one of their senses. So they want it quiet so they can hear people if they're shouting out for help.

BURNETT: Right. And Jerry, what can you tell us? We're looking at live pictures of the Plaza Towers Elementary School. We know those children had almost no warning. Elementary school, kindergarten through third grade. I know you don't know how many are missing. Obviously we can see quite a few rescuers in that school. Do you have any update on the situation there of how those children are as to how desperate that situation may be?

LOJKA: Well, I mean, the responders that are right there with boots on the ground have not communicated with us directly. So I haven't had any confirmation. But obviously, they feel that there is a need to go through every square foot of that school to make sure that people are not hidden in any of the voids that were created during the collapse. If they felt like the building was totally clear, then they would have moved on. Obviously, they have some concerns that they haven't been able to account for everyone. And, you know, every minute that passes, it becomes more desperate because if somebody is in critical condition, then their window of survival is reduced.

So, you know, we need to appreciate how much pressure they're under to affect that rescue at the time.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Jerry, thank you very much. And of course, people across that city, as he said, so many of them right now are missing and unaccounted for. But in that picture you're looking for there, children between the ages of five and eight years old. They're desperately trying to hear those cries and rescue those children from the Plaza Towers Elementary School. They have been pulling, we can tell you, children out of the rubble who have been alive to hand them over to their families. But that is what you're looking at now. And they, of course, are racing right now to beat dusk and beat dark and try to find these children quickly.

We're going to be back in a moment, speaking with some witnesses on the ground. And we're going to show you because as we've described, the governor of Oklahoma has said the damage in this case is more than what we saw in Joplin almost two years ago to the day. And we want to show you, when you look at these pictures when we say unprecedented why it really is. We're going to show you the before and after after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: We are back with breaking news. If you are just joining us, a massive tornado has leveled a suburb of Oklahoma City.

Here's what we know right now. Nearly 200,000 people were in the path of that tornado. It was estimated to be two miles wide, twice the size of the last record tornado to strike Oklahoma. At least six are confirmed dead at this point. That number will go up. It is unknown right now how many are trapped in the rubble.

But volunteers and first responders right now are desperately searching. You're looking at live pictures right now as they're trying to go through the debris. Debris we are also seeing right now reports that debris from Oklahoma City from Moore has little pieces of it actually have been raining down on Tulsa, Oklahoma, which is about 100 miles away.

Two schools were in the direct path of the tornado. The National Weather Service has classified it now as an EF-4. And what that means in terms of speeds is it could have been up to 200 miles an hour.

And as we have reported, they received an 8 to 12-minute warning. As can you understand, that's why they are so desperately looking for people. It was not enough time for many people to get to help, to get to shelters.

The picture you're looking at where you see the yellow clad first responders was the Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore. Our affiliate KFOR is reporting there were 75 students and staff at the school when the storm hit. We do not yet know how many of them are still missing. Some of them have been pulled out. We have seen of the rubble. We understand right now they're concentrating on one area in particular to try to find more of those children who were between the ages of 5 and 8.

A reporter for KFOR described the scene at the school.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LANCE WEST, KOFR: We do know the third grade class was, you know, in a hallway in a classroom taking refuge from the storm. And that part of the building is completely gone. There's -- there are no walls standing of the school. It's wiped to the foundation. There is just nothing more than a big pile of debris.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Right now, the FAA has put a flight restriction over that school and the other school that was struck by the tornado in Moore. The reason for that, they want silence. They don't want people with helicopters taking aerial pictures. They want silence so that they can hear the cries of people who are reaching out for help. That gives you a sense of how desperate the situation is right now as they are racing to try to find people before darkness.

The debris field is 30 square miles. Search and rescue units are going door to door through that entire space to find survivors. As I indicated, right now, it is a race against the clock before darkness falls.

I want to bring in CNN meteorologist Indra Petersons. She's a meteorologist and storm chaser.

And, Indra, we have heard the governor of Oklahoma say that this is worse than what happened in Joplin two years ago, the horrific tornado in which 161 people lost their lives. We heard this described as unprecedented damage. What is -- how would you describe the magnitude of what has happened?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, unfortunately, this damage is -- yes, like you're saying, complete devastation out there. Now, of course, everyone wants to know what are the speeds out there? What is going on?

Well, we do have to wait until we really get past the stage of rescue. That's going to be the first thing. We want to make sure everyone is safe. Save as many lives as we currently can.

But then as we go forward in time, we're going to be able to get surveyors out there. The National Weather Service will be able to go out there and evaluate the structure damage out there.

We're going to be looking for, of course, when you see two-story structures, when you see those completely devastated, that's when we start to get to the E-4, E-5 range.

Currently what we're seeing yes, definitely complete blocks are missing. Large buildings definitely are being completely leveled out there. Unfortunately, this definitely looks like that EF-4 where we've seen the damage out there really looking anywhere from that 160 and 200-mile per hour range. And, of course, this is something as we go into the late evening hours, where we're still not even in the clear. We still have severe weather out there with us. So, we're going to have to be monitoring, of course, some of these new cells that are developing as we still go through some of these rescue efforts overnight.

BURNETT: And, Indra, I know you, you know, with your experience as a storm chaser, describe a little bit what it was like to get so little warning. You know, our Chad Myers was talking about the last huge storm in Oklahoma, how they had almost an hour warning. Now, you're looking at a storm going through an area with 200,000 people. The schools and these children and they're getting maybe eight minutes warning.

PETERSONS: Yes, unfortunately. Well, it's something Chad and I were discussing, a lot of these places don't even have basements. It's very rocky terrain out there.

So, even if you have that warning, the question is, where do you go? If you don't have anyplace safe enough or a tornado of this magnitude, sometimes things unfortunately put new a position where you're not really sure even where to go. That's why we talk about needing this plan ahead of time.

Of course, some of the other things that happen is we have several days of these warning. Some people become numb. One of the experiences I have when I go to tornado chasing is people hear sirens throughout the day. Cell after cell develops and people start to get numb to that.

One thing I've always wanted to hear is potentially the idea of different sirens for the magnitude of what is spotted out there. Perhaps then people could start to reflect and hear what they're seeing and know, of course, not to go -- excuse me, to go to the safe place and not to ignore the warnings, which is something you commonly see. You drive around and see the warnings. People are just outside taking pictures, looking around.

People just really don't seem to have that need for urgency anymore.

BURNETT: Well, that's obviously seems to change that.

Indra, thank you very much.

And one survivor rode out the storm in a horse stall as stories come in of how people survived. And he spoke to our affiliate KFOR about what he witnessed before, during, and then right after the tornado hit. I just want to play you a piece of that to give you a sense of what it was like for people there.

(BEGIN VIDOE CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was just -- it was all windy and stuff before the tornado came. I didn't have -- I had no idea it was coming. It was -- just figured it was like yesterday. You know, big storm coming through. And then, all of sudden, it went quiet.

When it did that, being from Oklahoma, I came outside to see. I'd seen debris flying over that way. And I thought I might have a little while. So I tried to let some of the horses get loose and free out of their stalls so they'd have a chance.

I didn't have very long at all. I jumped into one of the stalls here. That's what these here used to be. And they clashed over on top of me and sat a pickup truck down on top of it and pushed it down this cement way.

And it was just unbearably loud. And you could see stuff flying everywhere, just about like on the movie "Twister."

REPORTER: 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: Yes. You know, they used have to the saddles and other here. These were tack rooms. This tack room is where I used to live at, as you can see my belongings. And then, a couple fans for in the shed row. And, you know, lost everything.

These horses are how we survive. You know, these horses are what bring us our meals every day, what bring us our place to sleep and we might have one horse left out of all of them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: All right. You're looking at live pictures right now of the elementary school as we've been reporting where first responders are trying to find children. There were 75 people reported in the school at the time of the storm. Some of them have been rescued. They're trying to rescue others. And as we've reported, they have an FAA flight halt over that school so they can hear people calling for help.

I want to go to Nick Valencia, who is a block and a half away from that school right now.

Nick, I know that at this point they've got a little bit of time, a couple hours before darkness. But they're racing for the light right now.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erin, first responders are continuing to fan across this devastation. If you look behind me, block after block after block, it just keeps going. It's beyond awful.

I don't know if you can make out the noise in the background, that beeping, those are car alarms going off. We have our producer, Josh Rubin (ph), take a tour inside. He said that he saw people scrambling to recover possessions, just what little they had left anticipate what little they could.

When we first got here, Erin, in fact, Erin, there was a group of young men who are looking for loved ones. He was looking for his house. He didn't know if his house was still around. He couldn't find it.

But the smell of gas is also all around us. You're seeing the pictures at home, Erin. It's just as bad if not worse here on the ground. I've never seen anything like it.

I'm standing in what were memories of one strong family's that lived in this community littered around. This neighborhood reduced to wood, planks, twisted metal, scraps of metal, cars blown out. It's just really bad here, Erin.

BURNETT: Nick, you're talking to a family with another story of how they managed to ride this storm out and they're now with you.

VALENCIA: Yes. This neighborhood is full of stories like that.

Kurt, who rode out the storm with his wife -- Kurt, I want to bring you in here. You were at home with your handicapped wife. You didn't have a storm shelter. What did do you?

KURT: We went in the bathroom. And we prayed about it, turned it over to the Lord. I told him, to my wife, I said it's going to be just fine. And it was.

There was one small hole punched in the bathroom ceiling. It blew the end of the house out, blew the room next out, blew the room next to her out, took out north wall in the living room, blew out all the windows, blew the garage down. But we were safe. The Lord took care of us.

VALENCIA: We're thankful you're safe, Kurt.

What do you think of when you look at this devastation? This is your neighborhood. This is where you live.

KURT: Heartbreaking. That's all you can say, heartbreaking. There are families here that will never recover. They'll never regain. Some of them will never capture again that sense of security that they had.

But my security isn't in the things I own. My security is in the Lord.

VALENCIA: Do you feel cheated in any way? Looking around here?

KURT: My life is in his hands. Everything I own is his. And so, whatever he does with us, is fine. It all belongs to him.

VALENCIA: You seem as though you have a very strong support system, your pastor and another member of the church came here to get you out and your wife, who uses a walker to get around, was evacuated earlier.

KURT: Yes, sir.

VALENCIA: How you are doing right now?

KURT: I'm fine. I'm hungry. No. I'm fine. I really am. I don't have any problems with it.

You know, you look at all the stuff you accumulate a lifetime. I'm 72 years old. You accumulate a lot of junk in that time. So, we'll get to restart over. But it's fine.

VALENCIA: And, Erin, there is going to be a lot of people like Kurt that are going to try to restart their lives. Some will come back to nothing at all.

As I mentioned, this devastation stretches for block after block after block. We got in here by taking the back roads. In fact, we're on the fringes of a cemetery we had to cut through a cemetery in order to get here. Traffic was clogged up, impeding first responders from arriving on the scene.

We got here before some of first responders did. The devastation is just everywhere. Blank stares on people's faces. It is just incredible to see -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Nick Valencia, thank you very much.

As we said a block and a half away from the elementary school where the ongoing search for children is going on, as you can see with those first responders trying to find the children. We have reported that there were 75 children and teachers in that school. And right now, they're trying to pull as many of them as they can out.

We're going to have the very latest on that situation right after this break. We'll be right back.

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BURNETT: To get a sense of how destructive this tornado is, you've got to look at the before and after images. Right now, obviously, you're looking at a live picture of the search mission under way at the Park Tower Elementary School where we understand that there were 75 people, some of whom have been rescued. They are right now desperately searching for other children.

Tom Foreman is at the magic wall.

And, Tom, just start with that school, Plaza Towers Elementary School. That took a direct hit from the tornado. And as you can see, it's completely leveled now.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Exactly, Erin.

You know, there is a lot of open territory around Oklahoma. But this hit one of the areas that's not open at all. Here is downtown Oklahoma City.

You move down to Moore, about 55,000 people live in this area. And the school really is right in the middle of all of this. Let me bring up this image here and show you what we're talking about. This was the school before it was hit. And this is that same school now. Just devastated by what came through there.

Let's look at a couple of other areas. Here's the medical center not far away at all. This is a 3D rendering of the medical center afterwards. You can you see those before. There is after. There's before. There's after. Tremendous amount of damage.

A lot of the buildings still standing. That's encouraging. But still, an awful lot of damage there.

And if you go to the theater, quite close by as well. That was another one of the complexes. This is that same facility.

You see it in the image of before and after. There's before. There's after. All of this damage done here. A building over here completely wiped out.

I want to give you a point of reference here that is really important. As we looked at all these images, Erin, the epicenter of the damage is where the storm swept through right about here. This is where it did a tremendous amount of damage.

We've been talking about this being a mile wide. Well, it's about a mile from here to here. These are shopping centers in here, all sorts of neighborhoods. It's about a mile square if you went to this area with the school right in the middle.

And you have to have a sense of what the density is there because that makes a huge difference here. If we move in and I show you that neighborhood, here's the school right in the middle. In this picture alone, if we widen out and show you the whole screen here, there are roughly 350 to 400 homes right in this picture around that school. Every one of these homes within earshot of the baseball field here, if you had a ball game going on.

So that gives you an idea of how dense this area is and this, Erin, is dead center where the storm went through. A tremendous amount of damage even if you remove the school from the equation, the hospital, the theater, so many homes and so many people will have to be looked after -- Erin.

BURNETT: And, Tom, a horrific twist of fate when you talk about that school being in the center. Thanks to Tom Foreman.

Now, you've seen these pictures. I want to bring in George Howell. He is right across the street, across the field actually from that Plaza Towers Elementary School, as close as you can get to the rescue operation we've been showing you as you can be.

And, George, what are you -- you hearing, what are you seeing right now?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erin, right now, it's a line of people walking around us trying to get to that school, trying to help out. But officials are telling them that they don't want that help right now. In fact, they're trying to keep people away from the school property as that search and rescue continues.

This is a difficult situation for everyone out here, especially Laticia Velasquez (ph). And I want to bring her in right now, because we were talking a moment ago.

And, Laticia, I mean, tell our viewers who you're looking for right now.

LATICIA VELASQUEZ (ph): I'm out here looking for my niece, Nancy Rodriguez. I had two nieces here at Plaza Towers. One of them, Melissa Rodriguez, has been found. She's in the hospital. I don't know of her condition right now.

But still, Nancy Rodriguez is still missing. Also my sister, Sandra Rodriguez, is missing. I haven't heard from her.

And the situation out here is just devastating. It is very bad. One thing I do want to let all the people know that have lost someone or has a person missing out there, that the last thing we lose in a situation like this is faith. We have to hold on to faith and trust God every moment.

HOWELL: Laticia, thank you.

If she was in that school, yes?

VELASQUEZ: Yes, she was in that school.

HOWELL: Thank you for taking time with us.

Guys, I want to show you where we are, try to give you a look at what we see here. You can see over here where officials are set up. That was the front of the school, we presume.

Then if we pan over here, you can see people walking around the perimeter of the school. In fact, you can even see the playground equipment there. This is where the storm came through and the search and rescue continues at this hour. We have daylight so we can see what's happening.

Again, a lot of people are coming out here and they want to help, but officials are telling them not to do it. They are trying to clear this area. There are a lot of people trying to drive into this area. People who just wanted to get back to their homes.

Can we pan around and even take a look over at these homes over here? I don't know if we can or not. But just to give you a sense of what it's like in the neighborhood.

I mean, there's so much debris everywhere. You've got roofs that have been ripped off, trees that are down, power lines that are down, we had to maneuver around power lines. The power has been cut off but again, it's a difficult situation out here just trying to figure out, get our bearings and get in here safely. That's what people are also trying to do just to see what's left over, Erin, after this terrible storm.

BURNETT: And, George, just seeing all the rescue workers, have you seen more people like that woman there who was looking for her niece and sister, looking for their children? I mean , I know, we understand, we're not sure exactly how many were missing. There were 75 in that school.

HOWELL: You know, Laticia and I, we just started talking. But, you know, I'm sure that there are others.

There's a line of people. In fact, guys, if you want to come around us, you can. There's a line of people passing through this area to get over to that school.

You know, this will go on through the night. We also know that the police department, they are expecting -- planning to have a news conference here in the next 35 to 40 minutes to give us some information at city hall, some information on where we are right now with the search and rescue.

But again, you can see what's left over out here. Not a lot. Homes are destroyed. This school, you can tell, there are a few walls standing but barely that. We've seen from those aerials these rescuers doing their very best to go through this debris to try to find survivors. So, we just wait and see until we get an update from 'em.

BURNETT: And, George, what you've seen on your way there, I mean, how would you describe the devastation? I mean, you know, as you've talked about in Oklahoma, you know, we just saw tom foreman, there is so much open space, yet this storm, this tornado, came and hit right in the middle of where 200,000 people live.

HOWELL: You know, when we were driving into the neighborhood, we started to see -- you start to see the debris in the roads, then you keep going, the roads -- traffic gets worse. It's harder to get into the neighborhoods because people again, as I said, are trying to get into the neighborhoods themselves to see if their homes are still there.

Then you start to see this sort of stuff. You start to see homes that are destroyed, you see roofs that have been ripped off, you see these trees that have just been plucked out of the ground. The force of this storm -- I mean, it is quite apparent here at this spot.

And you also see people just walking around, neighbors talking to neighbors, just trying to figure out, trying to assess where people are, and that's what's happening right now. People are still in the point just making sure that people are accounted for after the tornado came through.

BURNETT: All right. George Howell, thank you very much. George, as we said, you can see the field behind him, right behind him is where the Park Towers Elementary School is where right now they are in a desperate search to try to rescue children between the ages of 5 and 8 right now who are still missing before darkness falls in the suburb of Oklahoma City Moore, where this tornado struck just a few hours ago.

Our live breaking coverage of the tornadoes in Oklahoma continues after the break with Anderson Cooper. And I'll see you back here at 11:00 live Eastern.

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