Return to Transcripts main page


Two-mile Wide Tornado Slams Oklahoma City Area

Aired May 20, 2013 - 21:00   ET


MARY FALLIN, STATE GOVERNOR: We'll have some legislation that will allow us to do that. Of course, we will be receiving some federal disaster relief. We anticipate it's quite obviously that we need it. And I also want to mention that I have been in many conversations with State Superintendent Janet Birisi. And she has given me an update on the school systems themselves and keeping track of what's going on with the various schools. I think there have been five that have had some sort of damage during this terrible storm.

STEVE EDDY, CITY MANAGER, MOORE, OKLAHOMA: Steve Eddy, city manager, Moore. Thank you, Governor, for coming down. I just want to say thank you to all of you that have come. First off, certainly our hearts and prayers go out to our residents and our folks here in Moore. As you know, we've been through this before, unfortunately. And I can tell you, though, that our citizens are resilient. I can promise our citizens and I know our mayor will back me on this, that this community will recover, we will recover and clean up as soon as we possibly can.

We are looking forward to that job, although we would rather not have it, it's here and we accept it and we will do the very best we can to get our community back to functioning normal as soon as possible.

Let me introduce to you the Fire Chief Gary Byrd.

GARY BYRD, FIRE CHIEF, MOORE: My name is Gary Byrd. I'm fire chief for the city of Moore. First of all, I want to thank all the mutual aid fire departments, EMS services, all the emergency services that came in to help us in the city and we are greatly appreciative of all your help and at this time we do not need any more mutual aid response, and we will contact you if we do, and we do appreciate everything we've received so far, though we have plenty of help on scene at this time.

And I would like -- I want to thank the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, everyone that's been involved so far, and I especially want to thank the citizens for being so understanding with us. We are getting everywhere we can, as fast as we can. And we will do everything we can to help the citizens of this community. Thank you.

JERRY STILLINGS, CHIEF OF POLICE, MOORE, OKLAHOMA: I'm Jerry Stillings, chief of police here in Moore. I'd just like to reiterate that our thoughts and prayers are with those individuals who have been affected by this storm in Moore, Oklahoma City, and everywhere. As far as the police department is concerned, we have a perimeter set up around the affected areas. We would ask that if people are in those areas, that they vacate that area as quickly as possible. Before nightfall, if possible. There are a lot of safety issues, gas lines, power lines, things of those -- that nature, that we have to take into consideration and there's just not much else that can be done in there at this time.

The search and rescue efforts will be -- will continue throughout the night or as long as they need be. So there is another reunification site at Southwest 19th and Eagle, at Abundant Life Church. That's for parents of children at Plaza Towers Elementary. If you need to make contact there, you can do that, as well as the St. Andrew's Church at Southwest 119th and Main.

Other students at other schools, who had been held over, if you have not been reunified, you can -- the parents need to go to the Moore High School and contact officials there. And that's where they're taking all the students from other schools.

So again, we want to thank everybody for their help and the other agencies involved, and we couldn't do this alone. And we do appreciate all the help. Thank you.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: That's the latest information from local officials and the governor speaking tonight from Moore, Oklahoma.

Across the area, the death toll at this moment stands at 51. We'll be back one hour from now, another edition of "360" at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. "PIERS MORGAN LIVE" starts now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

PIERS MORGAN, CNN HOST: This is PIERS MORGAN LIVE. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world to CNN's team coverage of what I can only describe as an unfurling nightmare in Oklahoma. A massive tornado two miles wide rips across the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore. The devastation almost unimaginable. At least 51 people confirmed dead. That number expected to rise. We have no idea yet how many are injured or missing.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like you took the house, you put it in a gigantic blender, put it on pulse for a couple of minutes and then you just dumped it out.


MORGAN: In a matter of moments, homes, schools, hospitals wiped away by a tornado that's been rated at least EF-4.


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


MORGAN: Students from one elementary school told to hold on to walls as the storm ripped their school apart. Teachers tried to protect students by lying on top of them.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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.


MORGAN: Rescues still under way at this moment and becoming increasingly desperate. I'll talk to witnesses and survivors and here with me in the studio is science educator Bill Nye. But I want to bring -- begin with CNN's George Howell in the devastated community of Moore, Oklahoma.

George, this is getting worse and worse by the minute, isn't it? Tell me the latest news.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Piers, at this point, we are losing daylight. You do see that officials, they do have a light up over this scene where the search and rescue continues. I don't know if you can see that line there of investigators. They're going in there. We've seen more investigators going into this area as they continue to look for people in the rubble, looking for children, looking for teachers, and here's the other thing, Piers.

In this neighborhood, people tried to go into the school, tried to help, also went into the homes trying to rescue people who were trapped in their homes or in their storm cellars.

Want to bring in Devin Anderson and Micah Pearson. You -- the two of you, you don't even live around here but you came here to try and help. You live in Norman.


HOWELL: So why did you come out here?

ANDERSON: I just -- well, I got a call from my girlfriend. And she told me that her family was trapped out here. So we came this way. And then we heard news that her family was OK and then we just decided to stay out here and help because we seen the disaster and we went out here and tried to help, and we were walking across the yellow tape and we got told that we can't go in with a hard hat and that they've got enough firefighters in their using the jaws of life right now, trying to get the kids out of the school. They were trapped in a hallway.

HOWELL: And officials were seeing that. You know a lot of people did want to go in and help but they are turning people away because they have an operation that is currently happening.


HOWELL: Micah, I want to -- I also ask you, what did you see when you were over there?

MICAH PEARSON, VOLUNTEER SEARCHER: Oh, man, it's just -- it's like ground zero. You know what I mean? There's just rubble everywhere. It's people's lives just everywhere. And, you know, we're just in there trying to find what we can, help people out. You know, there's a lot -- a lot of tears going on right now. People have lost family members, pets, you know.

Any movement you hear, you just run to that spot, try and dig and see if you can get somebody out. It's crazy. Crazy.

HOWELL: Did you find people? I mean --

PEARSON: We found -- we found dogs and we were digging and we were actually at a deaf guy's house and we didn't know if he was OK or not so we were banging on stuff trying to hear if we could hear anything from him. We got confirmation from the family that they are out and they are safe. So we didn't actually pull anybody from it. But I mean, I'm sure there's still people out there.

HOWELL: Guys, thank you for your hard work out there. Thanks for being part of this rescue. A lot of people did their best, you know, to go over and find people, find animals.

This continues, Piers, and it will continue certainly for several days. It's a mess out here. There are homes destroyed, for many people they're just getting out to this neighborhood to see their home for the first time. It's going to take a long time for this area to recover.

MORGAN: George, for now, thank you very much indeed.

And I want to bring in CNN's Nick Valencia, who's two blocks from the Plaza Towers Elementary School.

Nick, clearly a lot of focus now on this school. Nobody seems to be too sure how many children may be still trapped inside there. What can you see? What can you hear?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Piers, we're about two blocks away from the school. We're in the neighborhood, one of the strike zones of the EF-4 tornado that just ripped through this neighborhood. You can see the devastation behind me block after block. It just goes on.

We've been hearing a lot of stories of the residents coming back here to go through and sift through the remains. I want to bring in the Jones, their son-in-law and their grandson. You came back to your house, it's gone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's nothing left. There's nothing left. A big pile of rubble. Amazingly, though, our dog who rode it out and was buried in the rubble is fine.

VALENCIA: What were you able to get here? What did you --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A wonderful lady came by and said is this yours and this is a picture of our two daughters when they were babies. It's a very old picture, obviously. And they're wearing dresses that my mom made for them. And so it's a very special picture. We'll get it restored.

VALENCIA: Sometimes it's the simple things that make a difference in something like this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm telling you. I'm telling you.

VALENCIA: I understand your grandson -- why you rode out the storm, too, buddy, huh? Was it scary? What was it like?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was like a big tornado tore up the whole place.

VALENCIA: You're a tough one for sticking it out.


VALENCIA: Piers, these are just very uplifting stories. Family members that are sticking together, this community is banding together, and that really is the uplifting note in this tragedy that struck Moore, Oklahoma -- Piers.

MORGAN: Nick, for now, thank you. Obviously a devastating scene down there.

Joining me now on the phone is Scott Hines, a reporter for KFOR in Oklahoma.

Scott, this seems to be a really horrific tornado and the full scale of what has gone on here may not be known for a few hours. Tell me what you know.

SCOTT HINES, KFOR REPORTER: You know what, Piers, it's just -- it's complete utter destruction. It's been horrific. It's been deadly. 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. And this -- I mean, this is Tornado Alley. But this, whatever this was, we have never seen.

And you're seeing the pictures for yourself. It resembles a war zone. Folks are shell-shocked. I'm shell-shocked. Cars are 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. They're expected to grow exponentially. We have been focusing on those several elementary schools in Moore, 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, possibly kindergartners as well, those students were not bussed from the school, minutes before the tornado hit the older children at that children were bussed to a -- to a nearby church that was out of the way of the direct path of the tornado.

The other children, though, were not -- it's 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 there, children, so that search and rescue mission has now -- has now kind of transitioned over to recovery as dusk sets in, and I don't know, it's pretty chaotic.

I had another co-worker, she was -- she had just arrived on scene and she witnessed first responders pull out of the rubble a seven- month-old baby and with that seven-month-old, the baby's mother, both lifeless. They were trying to seek refuge in a giant freezer.

But we're also hearing stories of heroism. There were teachers at that elementary school who were using their body as a human shield and literally covering the children with their bodies and because of -- because of those teachers, those heroes, they are now -- those children are still alive and we're still trying to confirm, you know, the status of those teachers. But yes, it's devastating. Utter destruction.

MORGAN: I can tell -- I can tell from your voice, Scott, this is clearly rocking the whole community very hard.

Just want to make it clear to our viewers, CNN has not confirmed the fatalities that you are directly talking about there but clearly we can see the pictures and it's a very, very serious situation and the death toll, as you said, has been rising very fast in the last few hours. And we can only hope and pray that the search effort as it is, as we can see on screen now, is successful in finding at least some people still alive there.

And tell me this, Scott.


MORGAN: We're told that there may have been a 16-minute warning. Is that right? Which if that's true would be slightly above the normal average time.

HINES: It wouldn't surprise me. I mean, our meteorologists, the National Weather Center, I mean, we've been projecting this storm, and putting the warning out there for days now. And like I said, this is Tornado Alley. This is something that we're -- you know, we live with, especially during the month of May. Now I will say that May 3rd, 1999, which was -- which went down as one of the deadliest tornadoes we have experienced here in Oklahoma, pales in comparison to this tornado. This tornado, our chief meteorologist in his opinion, this tornado, of course it's not confirmed, but this tornado in terms of deadliness, the damage that was sustained, three times more powerful and deadly than May 3rd, 1999, and that tornado hit late in the evening. So families were at home, they were glued to their television sets.

In this case, it hit, you know, early in the afternoon and so children were at school, parents, some at home, others at work, and so there was just this utter chaos, you know. On top of the schools trying to figure out the best mode of protection for the children. I know that an e-mail was sent out by Moore public schools to families, to parents, notifying them that these students were taking cover within the confinement of the school.

And again, at this hour, that mission no longer a search and rescue mission, but our sources and rescuers, first responders, telling us that they fear there could be another 20 to 30 more children still beneath that rubble who have not been rescued.

MORGAN: Scott, in terms of the scale of the devastation to property and so on outside of the immediate school areas, we're told it may stretch as far as 20 miles. Is that your understanding?

HINES: Yes. We're hearing that the track of the tornado spanned about 20 miles, but that the level of destruction or the reach of destruction actually reached 30 square miles. And that's not just damage -- that's not F-4, F-5 (sic) damage. That's all degrees of damage, obviously. But that's an overall affected area by flying debris. That's something that we've never, never experienced here.

I just saw on Twitter and Facebook that there was -- there was debris that was being recovered in Tulsa, which is about 90 miles away from Oklahoma City, and I wouldn't be surprised if some of that debris made its way on into Arkansas, which the track of the storm was headed directly east, east-northeast.

MORGAN: Incredible. Incredible. Scott Hines, thank you so much for joining me. I really do appreciate it.

HINES: My pleasure.

MORGAN: What apocalyptic scenes and reporting from Scott Hines.

Updating tonight's breaking news, in Oklahoma, at least 51 people are dead after a huge tornado two miles wide struck near Oklahoma City this afternoon. Search and rescue efforts continue tonight. Houses, schools and hospitals were all leveled. A state of emergency is in effect, and the threat of more severe weather is far from over. I want to bring in Ken Garcia of the American Red Cross.

Ken Garcia, thank you for joining me. I've just had a really shocking report there from a local reporter talking about this being potentially two, three times the size of the terrible tornado in 1999 in the same area. What is your understanding of the scale of this?

KEN GARCIA, OKLAHOMA CITY RED CROSS: Well, this is a very large, destructive tornado that moved through Moore, Oklahoma, and our hearts go out to the families that have been impacted by this storm. It is absolutely horrible what has happened.

The Red Cross is beginning the process of getting into these neighborhoods right now. A lot of the roads are not even passable. I know that the tornado went over Interstate 35, which goes right through Moore, and some of the roads are still closed off. So, we're waiting and trying to get into these areas. We do have a shelter that is open at one of the local churches. It is St. Andrew's United Methodist Church that is open for the shelter. And we are currently in the process of identifying five more shelters for this area.

There's going to be a lot of people needing a place to stay, somewhere warm, a nice warm meal, and something to drink because it is still warm here, and we just want to make sure everyone is taken care of. And again, our hearts just go out to everyone. We here in Oklahoma, lot of our volunteers have friends and family who live in the city of Moore. I had a staff member in my office here while we were watching it, between when we had to go and do our own storm shelter here in our office, she was saying that her Bible club members live in that area, and she was able to hear from them so she knows they're now okay.

So you know, it is definitely very, very tough to see on TV, but we're resilient. Oklahoma is a resilient community. We're definitely going to bounce back from this. And Red Cross is here to help.

MORGAN: Well, best of luck with all your efforts, Ken Garcia. Thank you for joining me.

Chad Myers is at the CNN Extreme Weather Center for us. He knows the Oklahoma City area very well. Also joining us, CNN's Indra Petersons, who is tracking the tornado's path. Chad, let me start with you. You know this. How bad is this? It looks horrendous.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It's devastating to the people that live there and to all the communities around it as well because now you've cut the city basically in two. Half the city between Moore and Norman and the points south, and then to the points north. I-35 slices right through that part of town, and people can't get from one place to the other.

I believe that that's why some people are missing, because they just can't use the cell phones. The best thing to do, you can do right now, is to text your friends or text your loved ones, because texts only need a nanosecond. A cell phone call needs an entire free line. So always text during emergencies like this.

But this is bad. Almost 4,000 homes devastated by this. And you and I were looking at this damage, Indra. We're looking at pretty close to f-5 damage.

INDRA PETERSONS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Oh, yes. We're talking about damage that we were seeing out towards Joplin and of course, we compare that to Tuscaloosa. You really talk about these homes being completely wiped off their foundations. That's where we start saying, you know, this could potentially be stronger than an EF-4. We're also looking for multiple level buildings, and whenever we're seeing those completely leveled, of that also indicates there is the chance here that that could be as high as EF-5.

MYERS: Weather Service already saying at least EF-4. Just give you an idea, 166 to 200 miles per hour. That's at least, that's what they're saying. They haven't even gone out to look at it yet because they don't need to go out and look at it. They need to let the rescue workers rescue people. They don't need to be in the way. There's your scale. EF-5, total devastation, nothing left of the home. And I did see some slabs, concrete slabs, with not a house on it.

MORGAN: Amazing.

PETERSONS: This is something everyone has been talking about. They did have lead time into this storm. How come everyone didn't get out? Well, there's a lot of reasons for that. Chad was also talking about shelters, a lot of the terrain here not really great for getting an escape. Also, in tornado chasing, one of the things I do notice all the time is the congestion. Very popular especially with tornado outbreaks, for people to be out there. Now a lot of amateurs are out there and something we actually call spotter traffic. You cannot move on these major highways. Unfortunately, I did see that as something that actually played into this.

MYERS: Something you don't understand because it doesn't make any sense, there's no way to get a real basement in Oklahoma. It's just too expensive. It takes dynamite and backhoes. It's a rock right under the soil. So people don't dig basements. When we say go to the lowest level, that slab is the lowest level. It's dangerous. I wish we could do better. But if you can build an interior home, an interior part, you've seen these safe houses.

PETERSONS: Absolutely. Of course, it needs to be that bottom level. We say this all the time. A lot of people talk about a bathtub. It's not just a bathtub. It needs to be the most interior room on the lowest level. It's one whole picture. That's what we need to get out there.

This is Oklahoma. You would think they had shelters, but not everyone does. For this reason, you have to have a plan. Whether you have 13 minutes or 45 minutes of lead time, there has to be a plan for reasons just like this.

MYERS: Piers, you saw the damage last night. That was Shawnee, and those were mobile homes. What we see today were not mobile homes. These were real house built structures, nailed to the foundation or to the slab, and they were devastated just like those mobile homes were yesterday. This is a big tornado.

PETERSONS: That's exactly what they will be evaluating of course, is between the EF-4 and whether or not there is a threat for EF-5, is how strong the buildings are. Not just whether or not the building is gone. It's how it's built.

MORGAN: Chad and Indra, for now, thank you both very much indeed.

The destructive power of a tornado is hard to imagine if you never experienced it. I want to bring in science educator Bill Nye now to try to make sense of what happened here. Bill, we have spoken many times about natural disasters. This does seem to be particularly appalling.

BILL NYE, SCIENCE EDUCATOR: Well, it's huge. The thing that strikes me about this one is the width of the storm. Everybody's talking about the scales, the Enhanced Fujita scale. That's the EF, is based on the destruction of buildings. It turns out if you understand the buildings well enough, and you see which ones are destroyed, it gives you a lot of information about the strength of the storm. But this thing was not just going 30 miles across Oklahoma, but it was two miles wide.

MORGAN: And it was down for 40 minutes?

NYE: Yes. They travel usually less -- well, less than 35 miles an hour so it's going half of highway speed for most of an hour.

MORGAN: From what you're seeing and hearing, is this on the scale of Joplin? Is it worse?

NYE: It sounds like it's worse. Sounds like it's worse because of the width. So you've got the air's moving across the Midwest, as it goes over the land, it drags on the surface and it will start to tumble. Then as the air mass comes up from the Gulf, warm air mass, it will start to essentially tip the thing. And since everything's rushing to where the air's rising from the warmth, you're getting squeezed up by the cool air. It doesn't come in symmetrically so it starts to spin. This enormous storm.

So, the question is if it's four times or let's say two-and-a- half times as wide as the storm in 1999, does that have -- does it have ten times the energy? And is that the future. Then what are we going to do in the Midwest?

MORGAN: Let's take a quick break, Bill. I want to talk to you more about is this the future because many people are saying after Hurricane Sandy here in New York and now this, what is going on with the weather? Is it getting more extreme?

We'll come back after the break. And we'll also have more on the search for survivors tonight and the devastation on the ground in Moore, Oklahoma.


MORGAN: CNN's George Howell is back with me now outside Plaza Towers Elementary School. George, I'm a father of four children. I can't even imagine what these families are going through, not knowing what has happened to their kids at this school. Do you have any more on any kind of account of how many may be being brought out alive? GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Piers, the latest number that we have, seven children that were in that school -- that's the latest number that we have of the 37 killed in this area.

But I do want to go ahead and bring in some people who have another side of the story, a good story. Rosa Valdista, Norma Valdista, and Maria Rodriguez. And their children were in the school when this happened. I would imagine as parents, you are incredibly thankful to have your children right here, right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I thank God that I got there in time to pick up my nieces, my nephews, my son, because I don't know what I would have done if he would have been one of -- I mean, I can't -- I'm speechless. How did this happen? Why did this happen? My son, how do we explain this to the kids? How are they going to wake up tomorrow and everything's missing -- the school, these houses, their friends. Nobody knows where anybody is. We can't contact anybody.

Hopefully if anybody's listening, you know, we're okay. I'm from Wisconsin and again, if anybody's listening, my son and I are okay. My sisters, my nieces and nephews, my brother-in-law, everybody's fine. But there's very many people that are left without houses. Their cars, everything. Everything's gone. In an instant, everything -- everything's gone.

HOWELL: Rosa, I wanted to ask you, what was it like for you, you know, in those moments after the tornado to come out here looking for your child?

ROSA VALDISTA (ph), TORNADO SURVIVOR: I was scared. I was stuck at work. I work at Hobby Lobby up the street. And we were hiding, waiting out the storm. And I was told the kids couldn't leave without a parent coming to get them, so I was scared that my sisters probably were not able to get my kids. And there's no communication, so you're frightened for that moment. And finally somebody from work (AUDIO GAP), which is on the other side of the school to pick up my daughter and (AUDIO GAP) I mean, just bad. It's bad. It's bad.

HOWELL: Norma, I know your son wanted to talk to us. Mind if we ask him a question?


HOWELL: Julio, what was it like to be in that building at the time?

JULIO: It was scary. And a lot of my friends were still there when I left.

HOWELL: What did your teachers tell you to do? You showed me a moment ago.

NORMA VALDISTA: Go ahead and show him what you did.

JULIO: You duck, and you cover your head with your hands. And all of my friends were hot and sweaty because we were all bunched up. HOWELL: You did that through the whole storm?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Until I picked them up, they were all -- all the children were down. And as soon as I walked through the building -- I mean, I was a little hysterical. I was running through the building barefoot and just screaming their names. Each one of my kids stood up and they came with me.

HOWELL: Maria, what's going through your mind?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, I heard that the storm was coming towards us -- I heard that it was coming towards the school. I just thought about my daughter. I thought, you know, I have nieces and nephews in there. I had to get them out. And I saw it. I saw it from over the houses that it was coming, it was about to touch down. I'm like I got to get them out. And I'm glad that we did get them, because look what's left. There isn't much left. We went through the office and there are so many cars just inside the office. Just like what happened?

I mean, just, you know, a couple hours, it was -- the kids were there and teachers. And you know, there were so many kids still there when I picked up my daughter. And the teachers were there. And there's so many people that were still in the building when I left, you know. That's just horrible to think how many kids -- just horrible to think.

HOWELL: Do you know of any others that didn't make it out at this point?


HOWELL: You're worried about your teacher right now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's worried but we don't know for certain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of my friends' mom, they were looking around for her -- his son --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's a lot of people wandering through the streets and just asking is my -- you know, do you have a child in this grade? Do you know anything that's going on? And we're helping out as much as we can, because we've got kids in all different grades. But we can only help so much because we took our kids out before the storm hit.

HOWELL: Thank you. Thank you. I didn't mean to cut you off. I don't want to put any names out there at this point until we know those people. But we really appreciate you guys talking to us, taking time. And as parents, I can't imagine what's going through your mind right now. Thank you so much for taking time with us.

Piers, you know, this is going to continue for -- through the night. We do know that parents are staging at Southwest 19th Street and Eagle. That's where parents are staging who are looking for their children. As you heard these parents say, just across from us here, that's what's happening. Parents are just trying to find their children. Relatives are trying to find people who were in that building.

We're staying on top of it, trying to get the latest from officials. But this will continue for some time.

MORGAN: George, thank you very much indeed. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin wasted no time declaring a state of emergency and activating the National Guard. On the phone with me now is Oklahoma Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb. Lieutenant governor, thank you very much for joining me.

This is a truly awful scene. And we still don't know the scale of the number of fatalities or indeed, the number of injured. What is the latest that you're hearing?

TODD LAMB, OKLAHOMA LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR: Piers, it's absolutely horrific. Thanks for getting the word out and sharing the news of what's occurring in Oklahoma. Fifty one deaths confirmed at this time. It's unfortunate that that number is going to rise with the enormity of this tornado, the severity of this tornado. That number will increase. Of that 51, seven are children that we know at this point. And the search and rescue continues.

We've got probably 20, 25, maybe 30 minutes at the most of daylight left. Lights have been brought in. Generators have been brought in. The search and rescue will continue throughout the evening. And of course, the enormity is quite large in the city of Moore, parts of Oklahoma City. Moore's a suburb of Oklahoma City. It's all one metropolitan area. The search and rescue crew, Piers, is going all throughout the metropolitan area that's been affected. But a real concentrated effort, of course, at that elementary school that was flattened and the walls pancaked, still looking for at least, the last report I heard, roughly two dozen students -- elementary students that were located in that elementary school.

MORGAN: Absolutely appalling. I mean, it is just a heartbreaking situation. As you say, the lights coming in, the rescue search will obviously be more difficult in the dark. Tell me, lieutenant governor, people are comparing this to the massive tornado of '99 and saying this may have been considerably more powerful. What is your belief?

LAMB: Well, I saw the devastation in 1999 and then just four years later, 2003. Piers, this is the third time the city of Moore and parts of Oklahoma City have been hit with this path that the tornado took this afternoon, the third time since 1999. I think this tornado, when it's all said and done -- and I hope I'm wrong. I hope I'm wrong. I think this tornado will be greater -- greater devastation than the previous two tornadoes combined, once we do the final numbers as far as loss of life, injuries and property damage.

MORGAN: It's just heartbreaking and shocking. Our thoughts go out to all those poor families, many of whom still have no idea if their children are alive or dead in the rubble of that school. We can only just hope and pray for them tonight. Lieutenant governor, thank you very much for joining me.

LAMB: Piers, thank you.

MORGAN: Just an awful, awful scene. When we come back, more on the massive rescue effort under way and stories of survival in the devastated Oklahoma community. Plus, a storm chaser who headed into the twister.


MORGAN: Breaking news now on the tornado that's devastated an Oklahoma community. Joining me is Major General Miles L. Deering of the Oklahoma National Guard. Major general, thank you for joining me. You're in charge of this operation. I understand 204 of the Oklahoma National Guard are currently involved in this. What can you tell me?

MAJ. GEN. MILES L. DEERING, OKLAHOMA NATIONAL GUARD: Well, first of all, we're in support of the first responders who initially came on the scene during the tornado. And you know, the role of the Guard is to support those first responders. And those guys and ladies always do a great job. And it's -- they need help and they need assistance. And wherever we can provide that, we will.

MORGAN: In terms of the scale of what has happened here, we're getting more and more disturbing reports about the damage to human life, to property and so on. What do you think, from your assessment?

DEERING: Well, the devastation is just indescribable. You know, obviously, the loss of life is heartbreaking and especially with the kids. But in order to gain a perspective of what's been done here and what this tornado tore down, you have to have a perspective first of what it was. And I'm not sure that anybody who hadn't seen it before could really describe the devastation. And it's just -- it's just literal devastation.

But this is where Oklahomans come together. Governor Fallin and Albert Ashwood are -- in our Department of Emergency Management, did not hesitate to declare a state of emergency. And the first responders were on the scene just instantaneously. And -- but you know, it's just a recovery effort now. It's going to take not just days, but it will take weeks and months to work our way through this. But as Oklahomans, the heart is there. They'll recover from this. And they'll move on. And we'll write another chapter in our history.

MORGAN: Major general, thank you for calling in. I wish you all the very best with your team in the operation that you're involved with tonight.

DEERING: Thank you, Piers.

MORGAN: This tornado is unlike anything most people have ever seen. Joining me now is a man who has seen the extraordinary power of a twister close up. Storm chaser Jeff Piotrowski is on the phone. Jeff, we have spoken before. Where does this rate, this tornado, from your experience, in terms of size and power?

JEFF PIOTROWSKI, STORM CHASER: Well, we're waiting for the national weather service in Norman to rate the tornado. And they've got damage assessment teams out late this afternoon. And all day tomorrow, they'll have teams coming into Norman and help with damage assessment. It's definitely going to be on the high EF scale, greater than EF-3. You know, I haven't been able to tour all the city. I saw massive damage in shopping centers, that I wouldn't be surprised at least you get to EF-4.

I would hold off on going any higher than that at this point, until the weather service does their official damage assessment tomorrow.

MORGAN: We're looking at pictures that you yourself have taken as you've been driving around, fairly apocalyptic even there. These are live pictures, actually, I have just been told. So this is right now in that area. What is the scale of the damage in terms of mileage? We're hearing as much as 20, maybe even 30 miles.

PIOTROWSKI: Yeah. The tornado was on the ground -- it set down on the ground near Newcastle. That was the same area that on May 3rd, 1999, the other F-5 that become the benchmark here in Oklahoma City, and also filmed and chased that tornado, all the way from south Tacoma -- it took a very similar path, starting in Newcastle, but across Moore. And some of the areas that got hit in '99 were also hit in this event.

The main thing that made this one so terrible is a lot of the schools, which I'm near an elementary school here on the west side of Moore, which has had a number of injuries and some fatalities at this location, is what I'm being told by people working the scene -- that a lot of the schools, shopping centers were full. We have a shopping center here on the west side that has collapsed. We have malls that have been collapsed with people trapped.

You name it, we've got the problem here. It is massive. It's long. It's about a mile wide roughly. I've had reports of two miles, but I can only confirm in my location about three quarters to a mile wide, at my location, west I-35. But the damage here is massive. I mean, it's very similar to the May 3rd F-5 tornado. In some places, it's worse. In some places, it's not as worse, but it's very similar.

MORGAN: Jeff, to put it in some kind of context for viewers, the United States has, on average, about 1,000 tornadoes reported a year. According to the National Weather Service, in 2012, there were 70 tornado related deaths in America. It's pretty clear now I think that the death toll from this one tornado is likely to exceed that. Where exactly are you right now?

PIOTROWSKI: I'm on the west side of Moore, just west of I-35. I'm literally in the middle of the worst damage. I'm in the ground zero of the worst damage on the west side of Moore. I have only been able to go about three miles. There is search and rescue. I pulled in here about an hour and a half to two hours ago now. They are still pulling people out of rubble, some alive, some not alive. Several people told me it's been very gruesome, the stuff they're finding. I think they've got a lot of people out. In certain locations, there is search and rescue still underway. I don't want to divulge. But there is still search and rescue under way at this time.

MORGAN: Jeff, thank you so much for joining me. I'm sure we'll talk to you later in the evening. Thank you so much.

PIOTROWSKI: Thanks, Piers.

MORGAN: When we come back, more from the disaster zone as we go back to Oklahoma.


MORGAN: The recovery still going on late into the night in Oklahoma and becoming more desperate by the minute. Joining me now on the phone is Heather Moore. She was in her basement when the storm hit. When she came out, she tried to rescue her neighbors. Heather Moore, thank you so much for joining me. It sounds like you've had a terrifying experience today. Tell me what happened.

HEATHER MOORE, MOORE, OKLAHOMA RESIDENT: Well, I was leaving work and I got off the highway on 19th and I saw the tornado coming. So I rushed over to my grandmother's house with my family and we got in her cellar in her backyard and waited a couple of minutes, turned the radio on. I knew it was coming straight for us. So closed the door and got down, started praying real hard.

It came. And it sounded like, you know, a freight train came over us. Everything got real still after that. So we got out and rushed over to the front of her house, which faces kind of Highland East Junior High on Fourth Street there in Moore, where a lot -- this is on the east side of Moore, not the west side where Santa Fe and the elementary school is. It's on the other side. It was pretty bad.

So we got out. We rushed over, we jumped over power lines. Trees were down. My cars was under trees. It was really devastating. At this point, it was still raining. And we just rushed and sloshed through the water tried to get to people because we knew people were probably in their houses.

MORGAN: And in terms of all of the houses around you, what was the devastation like?

MOORE: Across the street from where I was, there was some houses that were completely gone. I've been through three tornadoes, actually. Actually I was in May 3rd also, and it was very, very similar. Cars were turned over. Some houses were half gone, some houses were all gone. Cars were thrown around like toys. All the trees were gone. All the power lines were gone. And there's mattresses, blankets, pictures. There was jerseys from the junior high's gym that got hit everywhere. There was jerseys in my grandma's trees. They were everywhere.

MORGAN: And to somebody who's now been through two of these huge tornadoes, because 1999 was the other really big one, what does it feel like to be in the eye of this kind of storm?

MOORE: Well, it's really, really terrifying because the sirens go off and it's real humid and you kind of knew it was going to come all day. And being from Moore, I know exactly what it feels like. I had a feeling all day that it was going to be bad. So I was near the shelter. And it gets real hail and real rain.

The wind picks up a lot. And all of a sudden, you close the door to the cellar and it feels like a train is going over you. And you kind of don't hear anything for a second. And then all of a sudden it passes and it sounds like the train just passed over you. And you get out and it's like nothing ever happened. The birds start chirping again, everything is gone.

MORGAN: You must feel very lucky to have got out alive today.

MOORE: Yeah, I feel very lucky. I feel very lucky to have helped people get out of their houses across the street.

MORGAN: Heather, I'm so glad that you made it. I'm so sorry for the others who didn't and for the poor families of those who still don't know. Thank you so much for joining me.

MOORE: Thank you.

MORGAN: At least 51 people have been confirmed dead in today's tornado, tragically including seven elementary school children. Seeing the devastation in Oklahoma is especially difficult for Congressman Tom Cole. Not only does he represent the district, he's from Moore in Oklahoma, the very center of the devastation. And the congressman joins me on the phone now.

Congressman Cole, you're from Moore. What is your reaction to what has happened there today?

REP. TOM COLE (R), OKLAHOMA: It's just devastating, Piers; 53 people, likely to be more, quite frankly. And you know, this is our fourth time in 10 years, '98, '99 and '03 before this one. Fortunately, we're awfully good at handling these-type-of-things. And good first responders, good support from the surrounding communities.

Had the opportunity to talk to the president tonight who could not have been more supportive and reaching out and assuring me that all the appropriate federal response will be there. So we'll get through it. But it's going to be a very difficult time.

MORGAN: What can you tell me about what is happening at the Plaza Tower School? Because we now know that seven children have been confirmed dead, believed to have drowned in water, according to many reports. Although we haven't independently confirmed that. But do you know if that is true? Do you know how many more may be trapped in the rubble there?

COLE: No, we don't know how many more. And I'm always careful not to try and get ahead of the official count, if you will. But we know that the people on the ground did exactly the right thing. That's the tragedy. The teachers did the right thing. The children did the right thing. The neighborhood around the school is totally devastated. And the school was the most secure structure. They were in interior and reinforced walls.

But when an F-4 or an F-5 rolls through -- and again, we've seen this sort of thing in Moore before. There's just simply nothing you can do. If you're in the way and above ground, even in what's apparently a very secure structure, you're very likely to be injured, if not killed. And certainly, that's what appears to have happened here, Piers.

MORGAN: Congressman, finally, how does this compare to the other tornadoes that you've experienced in that area?

COLE: Again, this -- well the only comparable one -- and we've had many -- would be the first recorded F-5 in history in '99. But honestly, just looking and surveying the damage, I would say this one's probably worse. It's certainly worse in terms of loss of life. We lost 42 people back in '99. But they weren't all in Moore. They were spread over the entire Oklahoma metropolitan area and other communities. That particular tornado was actually on the ground longer than this one.

But this one, the devastation is much more centrally located in a single place. We have other devastation in the district, but not like this. So in terms of loss of life and structural damage, I have to say that this is much more worse for Moore than anything we've ever gone through.

MORGAN: We're looking actually at live pictures that have just come in. This is of the Plaza Towers Elementary School. Seven children confirmed dead, but many more believed to be still under the rubble there. We just don't know at this stage how many. But the search is on going. And obviously it's now darkness there, making it even harder.

Congressman, I wish you all the very best with you and your constituents there and everyone in Moore and the surrounding areas in the recover operation. It's obviously going to take a number of days to try and resolve any of this. I wish you all the very best with it.

COLE: Well, thank you so much. Thanks for the prayers and the support of other people, the first responders. In a time like this, honestly, you're lucky to be an American because the resources of the federal government are there for you, just as they were for Sandy victims and Katrina victims and Oklahoma City bombing victims. So we'll -- we'll get through it, but a lot of help from our friends and our fellow Americans.

MORGAN: You do have our thoughts and our prayers tonight, and our very best wishes. Thank you, congressman.

COLE: Thank you.

MORGAN: When we come back, I want to go back to the devastated Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma, where the dramatic search continues.


MORGAN: Looking at live pictures of the Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma, scene of the devastating tornado earlier today. We go back to CNN's George Howell, who is outside the school.

George, many conflicting reports about how many children may or may not still be in the wreckage there. What can you tell me? We know that seven are confirmed dead.

HOWELL: Piers, you know, we're keeping up with the latest information that we've confirmed through CNN. That is the latest number that we have, seven. That's where we're holding at this point. Obviously, staying in touch with these officials to get the latest word. And cell phone reception and Internet and email, hard to -- hard to keep up with out here. Hard to get reception. So we're doing our best to keep up with those latest numbers and pass that on as we get information.

Piers, I just went over there a minute ago, just crossed over this bridge. And I got a better sense of what is over there. You find cars that have been thrown around. You find playground equipment that's all over the place, walls that have been torn down. It's a mess over there. Fair to say it will take investigators some time to go through, clean this up and also find those victims inside the building, Piers.

MORGAN: And so much harder now that darkness has set in obviously. George, thank you very much, indeed.

That's all for us tonight. We'll be back live at midnight with the latest on the devastating tornadoes in Oklahoma. Now CNN's live coverage continues with Anderson Cooper.