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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Tornado Death Toll Now At 24; Mayor "Overwhelmed" By Tornado Disaster

Aired May 21, 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: OUTFRONT tonight, we have more developments in Moore, Oklahoma. The city devastated by a monster tornado. The death toll changed radically overnight and the very latest on last night's missing children.

Plus teachers risking their lives to save their students, Oklahoma's hero teachers share their story OUTFRONT tonight.

And this photograph -- this is what has come to define yesterday's events around the world to so many. The man in that photo joins us later in the show. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening, everyone. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, recovery in Oklahoma, the mayor of the city of Moore tells CNN, late today, and I want to quote him because this is the wonderful news of the day, "We don't have anybody missing." After yesterday's deadly 1.3-mile wide tornado, more than 100 people were pulled alive from the rubble.

Moore Fire Chief Gary Bird said every single structure was searched three times and when you see these pictures and you realize the magnitude of what that means, it brings home how many people worked tirelessly with no sleep to try to save lives. Cadaver dogs today were out searching homes in the community as you see there trying to make sure to find people, anyone alive.

And some residents risked the dangers of downed power lines and debris to go through what was left of their homes. Now, the death toll changed overnight and dropped dramatically, now standing at 24 including nine children, every one of those a tragedy. However, of course, early reports were there could have been as many as 100 dead.

So 24 is the number tonight, at least seven of the children were killed at the Plaza Towers Elementary School and that building is now almost completely flattened. Only a few walls actually remain. The stories of those who did survive are just starting to be heard.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I had to hold on to the wall to keep myself safe because I didn't want to fly away in the tornado.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had to pull a car out of the front hallway off a teacher and she -- I don't know what that lady's name is but she had three little kids underneath her. Good job, Teach.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Another elementary school, Briarwood, also reduced to rubble. This one, I mean, as you can see, just complete and total rubble. But another miracle, every single person in that school is alive. You can see the storm strength in this I-Report video of inside a car as debris swirls around.

You think miraculous this person was fine as it happened. Late today, we learned that the storm was stronger than we thought and that Briarwood School where everyone survived is where they were first able to measure that this was the most powerful a tornado can be.

The National Weather Service now says that the peak wind estimated between 200 and 210 miles per hour, which is the fastest possible wind speed measured for a tornado. We have everything covered tonight as Oklahoma tries to begin the recovery process. John King is on the ground in Moore on the survivors of the tornado.

Brian Todd with the firsthand look at the destruction with the tour with Moore's Mayor Glenn Luis and Kyung Lah at the Oklahoma University Medical Center with the incredible story of a family reunited after the storm.

I want to start, though, with John King tonight. John, what is the latest on the ground now? I have seen you all day. What is the latest that you have seen?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Remarkable, Erin. We had the driving rain. We had the thunderstorms. We had lightning. Now it's a glorious, sunny day, but if you look around the neighborhood here, of course, it's anything but glorious. A family has been in this home behind me for several hours now collecting their gear, mostly toys for their children, bringing that stuff together.

If you just look, there are hundreds of these. Not six or eight or ten or 12 of these, there are hundreds of these as you go through the neighborhoods. Houses just reduced, reduced to crumbs and timber and crumbled and twisted and when you think about that, when you think about that, when you see the devastation, block by block, mile by mile and you understand those numbers you just went through.

One point this storm hitting perhaps 210 miles per hour, the tornado as it came through. I may be standing right where you said in the middle of a miracle in the sense that the numbers tonight, 24 dead, 237 injured, but Erin, you mentioned an important point.

They're pretty confident in these numbers, but the Fire Chief Gary Bird at today's briefing said by the time it's dark tonight, they will go back to each of the properties he hopes three times just to be sure. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GARY BIRD, MOORE FIRE CHIEF: Which we made it through I will say most of the structures, most of the vehicles, most of the homes, but the ones that we didn't make it through yesterday we'll make it through today for sure and a second and third time we will be through every damaged piece of property in the city at least three times before we're done and we hope to be done by dark tonight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And we've been in this neighborhood much of the day, different parts of this neighborhood and Erin, we were here this afternoon when they did come through. It was quiet here. We had the rain. There was a little hail at one point and then swarms of search teams came through, usually about four or five to a team, most of them with a dog with them, lifting up the debris, going through houses.

Opening up some of the few storm shelters, little basements, mini basements they have in this neighborhood to look and double and triple check. You have to -- they were exhausted. I was with one team, Erin, until about 2:00 in the morning to see them back on the streets this afternoon.

Many of these teams also supplemented by people coming in from other states, all around the country, so heroic work not only by the men and the women but their dogs, the search dogs and the cadaver dogs through that work and you heard -- you mentioned the city manager here in Moore saying a bit earlier.

They believe there's nobody unaccounted for and as you see the recovery effort here, a billion dollars to come ahead and the thing that counts most, lost life, as I noted we may be standing tonight in the middle of a miracle.

BURNETT: All right, John King, thank you very much. As John said, with 24 dead, you know, it's so hard to describe it as a miracle but it is. Last night around 1:00 in the morning Eastern Time we were looking at numbers close to 100 that looked like they would go so much higher.

I want to bring in the lieutenant governor of Oklahoma now, Todd Lamb. Lieutenant Governor Lamb, it is in some ways a miracle. When you see these pictures and you think about how bad some of the initial reports were that so many people have been found alive and are alive.

LT. GOVERNOR TODD LAMB, OKLAHOMA: You're right. Of course, as you have alluded to, Erin, if you lose one, that's too many. So we're very sensitive to those who have lost loved ones and lost their lives, but the fact that the death toll is small relatively compared the severity of this storm and the enormity of this storm and the violence of this storm, initially we thought the death toll numbers could be significantly higher.

Again, we are sorry for those that lost their lives and that we have recovered, we have recovered their bodies, our thoughts and prayers go out to them. But, you know, credit goes to the rescue workers, credit goes to the early warning systems, credit goes to the men and women of Oklahoma that help each other and have rescued each other. BURNETT: And Lieutenant Governor, when we think about this, you know, you're in tornado alley and when we last spoke, you know, you were talking about how this tornado took essentially the same route as the horrific tornadoes of 1999 and 2003. And I know this morning you were talking about that elementary school where the children have lost their lives, Plaza Towers.

I want to quote you. You said they had a basement and frankly that's why some of the children drowned. I mean, were the schools properly prepared for the storm? It seems like some were very prepared and some maybe not.

LAMB: Well, you know what? It's easy to look on Tuesday afternoon and look back at what happened on Monday and point fingers and say somebody was prepared or ill prepared. The reality is if the safety measures were not taken in the way in which they were, we very well could have had a greater loss of life than we had.

The fact that we had very limited loss of life in one school, if not any loss of life and then another one where we had loss of life, but it was mitigated by the fact that those educators and teachers, superintendent, principal, all those educators on campus did all that they could to save those children.

BURNETT: You're sure at this point, Lieutenant Governor, that everyone really is accounted for. There is no one missing, no child or no adult at this point?

LAMB: Erin, I've been trying to get all the information I could all day. I knew that we would be visiting again this evening and had several interviews throughout the day. The first time I heard that everybody was accounted for was just now on your program so I'll do my best to confirm that. Of course, I want to be very sensitive to the fact I don't say too much or give information that may not be accurate. That may very well be, but the first time I heard it so you might have breaking news on that fact.

BURNETT: All right, well, thank you very much, Lieutenant Governor. And again, for our viewers, it was the mayor of the city of Moore that just told us late today that we don't have anybody missing, but as you hear from the lieutenant governor they're still trying to ascertain and our John King reporting still once again going door to door.

So they will have gone in to every structure, remains of the structure at least three times to confirm that they have found everyone. A day after the city was devastated by the tornado, the mayor inspected the damage and we're going to go along with him, you're going to see exactly what he saw today. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: We are following the breaking news on the deadly Oklahoma tornado. Tonight, officials assessing the damage say that at this point late today they were able to determine that there were signs this tornado at some point was an EF-5 and what that means is it was the most powerful tornado that can be recorded with winds that go up to 210 miles per hour.

Yesterday, we had reported that the winds were somewhere between 166 and 200 so these were north of 200 and up to 210. Those winds destroyed neighborhoods, levelling a city block after block. The miracle, it appears tonight that only 24 people have died. They say no one is still unaccounted for, but obviously those numbers could still change.

Today CNN went to look at the destruction behind the tornado in Moore, Oklahoma. And Brian Todd is OUTFRONT, he went through some of the blocks with the city's mayor.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We drove past blocks and blocks of shredded homes, mangled cars and fallen power lines. This is just one of the devastated neighborhoods in Moore, Oklahoma. The mayor, Glenn Lewis, showed us some of the hardest hit areas. He's trying to get a handle on the scope of the destruction on the town he's lived in all his life.

(on camera): How overwhelmed do you feel right now with all this?

MAYOR GLENN LEWIS, MOORE, OKLAHOMA: Pretty overwhelmed. It's going to be a mess to clean this up. So -- but we'll do it.

TODD: Mayor Lewis took us to the ruins of the Moore Medical Center where a pregnant woman went in to labor as the storm hit. A local councilman told us what happened next.

DAVID ROBERTS, MOORE CITY COUNCILMAN: The doctors and nurse stayed with her and she completed the birthing process.

TODD: While this was going on?

ROBERTS: Yes.

TODD: And then -- did they successfully get her and her child out of it?

ROBERTS: Yep. Yep. As a matter of fact, they said there was no injuries any of the patients or staff.

TODD: Rescue and recovery teams have completed a sweep of the medical center and the parking lot that looks like a junkyard now. City officials say these x's on vehicles and other things mark the fact there's no live bodies inside the structure. But the mayor says that doesn't mean there aren't any bodies underneath. And the mayor says that's why they have the canine teams out still combing the wreckage for bodies.

There are some places in Moore still too dangerous for us to get close to. Officials urge residents to stay away from their homes for now so emergency workers can do their jobs and make sure no one else gets hurt. GARY BIRD, MOORE FIRE CHIEF: The biggest concern now for the citizens and then for my men and all the people that have come in to help just to be sure they're safe and be sure the citizens understand we're doing the best we can of getting there as fast as we can.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: Brian, public officials telling people not to go back to the homes, right? I mean, why are they doing that, and where then are people staying?

TODD: Well, Erin, they're saying it to these people because they say even though it's more than 24 hours now after the tornado hit, it's still not safe to go back to your home. There are downed power lines all over the place. We had to navigate through a lot of those today combing through these neighborhoods. There are gas leaks all over the place. All of it, a fire hazard, and a lot of people don't really realize the hazards around the homes picking through some of the wreckage and just trying to pick up heirlooms and things like that.

It's still not safe. The police chief Jerry Stillings told me about that, they're trying to secure the area. Doesn't help them when people try to come back and pick through the homes. You understand why they're doing it, but it's very dangerous.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Brian Todd. Just amazing seeing those pictures.

Again, just reminding us all about the fact that with 200,000 people in that storm's path, right now we understand are 24 who have lost their lives. And a horrible tragedy in every single life. But you look at this and think that it could have been so much more horrific. There are so many unforgettable images we have been seeing since this storm hit. And I want to show you one that was taken by a storm chaser. This storm chaser actually captured the tornado as it cut through the community of Moore, and I want to show it to you now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kevin, get the pictures, man. I'm getting the video.

I've never heard a roar like that before.

(SIREN GOING OFF)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh my gosh. It just turned north! Very large wind tornado heading in to Moore, Oklahoma. Hold on. It's going to our north.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: You just heard him say, I have never heard a roar like that before. This tornado and the devastation hitting home for another storm chaser who's tracked more than 100 storms. His name is Dave Holder, lives in Norman, Oklahoma, right next door to Moore. And he's OUTFRONT tonight.

Dave, let me just ask you. You just heard that storm chaser say, I have never heard a roar like that. You were covering tornadoes yesterday when this one hit. Now you've seen the damage. Have you ever seen anything like this?

DAVE HOLDER, STORM CHASER: No. It's definitely once in a -- first time I've ever seen anything like this. It's just completely overwhelming. We got in there a few minutes after it happened, and I was just in a total state of shock. I've never seen anything like it.

BURNETT: And you have -- I mean, you have covered more than 105 tornadoes, I believe. And tell me if that number is wrong. But I wonder, Dave, you think about it where you live and what you do, is the risk of something horrific like this tornado happening, this experience, something you accept as someone who lives there that you know will happen to you? Or do you think, yes, I know that it might happen but it won't ever happen to me?

HOLDER: No. I'm actually always kind of worried during the springtime, and I always tell the people in Norman, I'm always a little on edge because I know that these violent tornadoes happen. And I know that they can happen anywhere. For whatever reason, Moore, I mean, it is so sad. They just keep getting them. They're really strong, violent tornadoes that rip through the city. I guess, the third time in 14 years.

But Norman itself had a few close calls, but nothing like this. No. I mean, I know living here, it's a risk and I'm always very, very aware of it. You know, I tell my -- I talk to my mom a lot about it. I'm like, well, you know, one of these days it might come through Norman. But, I mean, it wasn't Norman this time but it's way too close for home - or to home and way too close for comfort.

BURNETT: All right, well, thank you very much. And yet another person saying how unprecedented this has been for the people who have lived through this. And in Dave's case, someone who has chased more than 105 storms.

Amid the death and destruction in Moore, Oklahoma, there were a number of remarkable moments of heroism and sacrifice. The moments you can't believe. And yet they happen. And we're going to bring you one of the most incredible stories next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Amid the stories of death and destruction across the Oklahoma City area tonight, there are some remarkable stories of survival and reunion. And Kyung Lah spent the day at the Oklahoma University Medical Center and there met a family who truly beat the odds.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They knew where it was going. RICK ROBERTS, GRANDFATHER: You could just see it, you know, pulling up everything and it was on a beeline course dead straight toward this day care where my grandsons were.

LAH: What was left of the day care, his 3-year-old and 6-week-old boys inside.

ROBERTS: You can't look out and not break down. There's no way. I'm sorry.

LAH: Across town, his daughter Janna who rode out the tornado at school district headquarters where she works. She already knew Briarwood Elementary, next door to the day care, was flattened. For three hours she was trapped behind live electrical wires, desperately texting for news of her sons.

JANNA KETCHIE, MOTHER; Those three hours I didn't hear anything were the longest three hours of my life. Knowing that I may never see them again. No mother should ever have to go through that. No.

DR. BOB LETTON, OU MEDICAL CENTER, PEDIATRIC TRAUMA: It's hard and there are, you know, a lot of kids we were seeing were school age. Eight, 10 years old.

LAH: Children were being rushed in to Children's Hospital. 51 patients came in to Dr. Bob Letton's trauma ward, but that wasn't the hard part of the night for him.

LETTON: yes, it's -- it's -- it hurts. Because you know if they could get to you, you have half a chance. But a lot of them never got here and I'm not sure whether they needed to be here or not.

LAH: In the stream of children in the emergency room, little Grayson Ketchie. His ear hurt, a bad wound to his head. His baby brother --

GRAYSON KETCHIE, CHILD: I rescued my baby.

LAH: Your baby?

G. KETCHIE: Yeah.

LAH: Unscathed because their day care teacher covered them with a mattress and her own body. Amazingly, no one in this day care center died.

ROBERTS: It is a miracle. It's an absolute miracle.

LAH: Grayson is shaken as you might imagine.

What happened at day care?

G. KETCHIE: Bad!

LAH: It broke?

G. KETCHIE: Yes. LAH: But he's quickly on the mend and ready to play.

Oh, you got me!

One family's lucky turn who understands there are so many neighbors who are not.

J. KETCHIE: I'm sorry. We'll be praying for you and your family. It's all I can do.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAH: And we are delighted to tell you that Grayson is being discharged from the hospital tonight. He and his family heading home. Erin, their house was not damaged by the tornado.

BURNETT: Oh wow. Just incredible. Those pictures, I just love that. Looking at them right now, Kyung, as you go with the stuffed animal. Hmm. All right. Kyung Lah, thank you very much. With one of those stories that makes you smile amidst all that devastation that we're seeing.

In the middle of all of the havoc, there were moments of real heroism, as well. We'll hear from a teacher who risked her own life to save the lives of her students. And in their minds now, she will forever be a heroine.

And this image, as you see here, has been a front page image around the world. Captured the hearts of people following this story. That man in the photo comes OUTFRONT next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: We start the second half of our show with stories where we focus on our reporting from the front lines.

Of course, our main story tonight, the devastation and recovery in Oklahoma. We are also following the IRS story. The official in charge of the division that targeted conservative groups says she is going to invoke the Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination during an appearance before lawmakers tomorrow. Her name is Lois Lerner. She's already admitted publicly to scrutinizing the groups, but she made her intentions known in a letter to Representative Darrell Issa.

Two Tea Party groups meanwhile filed lawsuits against the IRS, alleging privacy violations and harassment. One of them, True the Vote, is seeking damages of $85,000. And senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin says these lawsuits aren't going to succeed. He says this is a political issue and it will have a political resolution.

And new developments in the coming presidential election in Iran. An important thing for all Americans -- the body that vets candidates approved eight to run for president. One person absent of the list is the protege of the current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. That's a man that expert Kenneth Pollack of Brookings Institution says was a long shot anyway.

Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was also snubbed. This likely means that conservative closer to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will likely be the next president. The first round of voting begins June 14th.

In a dramatic statement made to jurors today, Jodi arias pleaded that her life be spared, instead of asking the jury to sentence her to death as you're all aware she indicated she wanted in an interview. She called the murder of her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander, the worst mistake she'd ever made and said she could be constructive and positive in prison.

The question, though, is whether jurors believe her. Our legal analyst Paul Callan says her enthusiasm in describing all of the wonderful things she can do in prison could backfire. If the jury sentencing decision, though, is not unanimous, a new jury panel will be selected. The debt penalty must be a unanimous decision.

Well, Apple CEO Tim Cook defended the company's tax strategy on Capitol Hill today. The Senate panel is looking in to allegations that Apple has avoided billions of dollars in taxes by shifting income to overseas subsidiaries. By the way, the fact that Apple has billions and billions and billions of dollars overseas to pay less tax is a fact. Cook claims, though, that the strategy is legal and says the company pays a high effective tax rate of 30 and a half percent. That figure, though, is based on profits in the United States. And the problem is they've got a billion dollars overseas in cash which is often taxed at much lower rates, so you can see the problem.

Nicholas Thompson of "The New Yorker" says they've done great things to our economy, has also shown it's as creative of dodging taxes as it is of building things. Obviously, Apple begs to differ.

It has been 656 days since the U.S. lost its top credit rating. Today, stocks ended the day at record highs after a Federal Reserve official raised hopes the Central Bank would continue its stimulus programs.

All right. Along with countless scenes of destruction in Moore, Oklahoma, there have been images of relief and gratitude and reunion, including this one, which is resonating around the world. A man hugging a little boy, his neighbor who survived the tornado's destruction at the Briarwood Elementary School.

Here's the scene as this frightened first grader first saw a familiar face.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

BURNETT: OUTFRONT tonight, the man in that video, Jim Routon, along with his daughter Sheyna and also I believe Hezekiah (ph) with you, too.

Jim, this story and that picture is just incredible. What happened in your mind when you're sitting there with all that fear and you saw Hezekiah?

JIM ROUTON, TORNADO SURVIVOR: Well, I'm just sitting there. I was just relieved to find Hezekiah. He was just -- to see something familiar and to know that he was OK, I knew he was there at the school and just to see him and know that he was OK and didn't have any cuts or bruises or anything and it was very -- it was an emotional connection that we had. But it was very real and it was very rewarding, very satisfying.

BURNETT: And, can Hezekiah, I don't know if he can hear me but, Hezekiah, what went through your mind when you saw your neighbor and realized it was someone you knew?

J. ROUTON: What went through your mind when you first saw me and you knew it was big dog?

HEZEKIAH (ph): Well, when I saw you, I ran up to you and I just jumped on you and I knew that you were going to pick me up so I just jumped and you picked me up. And I just started hugging you really hard and, like, I was crying a little bit. And I was happy that I survived.

BURNETT: Jim, when you hear Hezekiah say that, how do you feel? You were that -- you were that light for him.

J. ROUTON: Yes. I felt like -- I felt like maybe I needed that hug as much as he did at that time. It was just -- it was so much chaos and it was so chaotic and we just weren't sure, you know, the school was pretty much devastated and mostly destroyed, and we just weren't sure if anyone was going to come out alive and to go over and see one of my favorite neighbors, child, emerge.

It was -- it was awesome. It was just an amazing feeling. It was awesome.

BURNETT: And, Sheyna, I know you were the first to see him running there towards your dad. What did you think at that moment when you don't know who's alive and see that little boy who I know is so important in your father's life?

SHEYNA ROUTON, TORNADO SURVIVOR: I just -- I saw him when I came -- I came around the corner and I saw that the school was gone and I just took off running because I knew I was like, he's in there. I need to find him.

And as soon as I saw him, he turned around and screamed my name and ran in to my arms, and it was the best feeling ever to know that he was safe and alive.

BURNETT: And, Jim, I wanted to ask Hezekiah, how does he feel now? Does he want to go back to school? Or not?

J. ROUTON: How do you feel now, do you want to go back to that school or not?

HEZEKIAH: I don't really want to go back to the school unless there's another one. If there's another one, I just want to, like, stay away from it and go to a different school so that I don't have to go through it again.

BURNETT: And, Jim, does this -- you were already close to him. He's very special to you. What does this do for your relationship?

J. ROUTON: Well, he's a special little man and I think this will just -- this will enrich our relationship as far as that goes. He'll just continue to be the same little dog, my little dog. He calls me big dog and I call him little dog and when we're playing basketball or whatever. So he was just -- he just said I'm so glad to see you big dog whenever he ran to me so it was pretty special.

BURNETT: And does it surprise you or can you believe that that picture, your picture of the two of you, big dog and little dog, is -- I mean, the whole world has seen it. It's become an image of joy and recovery. That picture of the two of you. Can you believe that?

J. ROUTON: No. I can't. (AUDIO GAP) thanks to the media outlet that is are getting the types of stories and these types of pictures out for everyone that actually helps us, you know, to the healing process and helps us to learn and see that we have to depend on one another. We have to depend on one another to get through these types of things and, you know, we're Oklahomans and that's the Oklahoma spirit.

I mean, we've been through this. We get through it. And by the grace of God we'll rebuild and clean up and move on.

BURNETT: Well, thank you so much and that image has given so many just a light and a ray of hope. Thanks to Jim, big dog, Hezekiah, little dog, and Sheyna, thanks to you, all right? Thanks so much all three of you.

J. ROUTON: OK. Thank you.

S. ROUTON: Thank you.

BURNETT: And we are learning that that tornado at one point was an EF-5. And as we have been explaining, that's the highest classification that a tornado can receive. At the time when the EF-5 was struck, winds were between 200 and 210 miles an hour. That's up to 50 miles per hour faster, nearly 50 miles faster than that they thought it might have been when it struck Briarwood Elementary School.

That, of course, is where Hezekiah was in school. This school is completely and utterly gone. Hezekiah and every other child though managed to survive.

And Ed Lavandera is OUTFRONT to talk about the heroes, teachers in Briarwood Elementary who put their lives on the line to save Hezekiah and every one of his classmates.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These are the frantic moments after the tornado struck Briarwood Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma. Chaos instantly wrapped in the comforting arms of parents and teachers. Snapshots that captured the emotion, words can't fully do justice.

This is where we find Tammy Glasgow and her second grade class.

TAMMY GLASGOW, 2ND GRADE TEACHER: I can't even describe what was going through my head. I was numb.

LAVANDERA: As the tornado sirens blared and teachers moved students to safe positions, Tammy stepped outside.

(on camera): This is what you saw just --

GLASGOW: Yes, right before we went in.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): She snapped this picture of the twister barreling right at her classroom. Tammy Glasgow raced inside and crammed about 20 students into a closet and bathroom.

(on camera): What do you tell a bunch of second grade little kids at that moment?

GLASGOW: Well, before I shut the doors, because the bathroom had doors, I shut the doors, I said I love you. The boys looked at may little strange. Walked in the girls and said, I love you. They all said, I love you back.

I just told them to pray and that's what we did the whole time in the closet is prayed.

LAVANDERA: Do you think that they grasped what was about to happen?

GLASGOW: I'm not really sure. They were all singing the national anthem. We -- we're about to have a program in two days. We're going to perform the national anthem so they were practicing. I mean, they were just trying to forget what was actually happening.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): For Tammy, the horrors seemed to never end.

GLASGOW: I just assumed that they would be quick. But it just stayed and stayed and stuff was falling on us. We had books over our heads.

And I looked -- glanced up once and you could just see it. It was just like brown, huge and never ending. Just all the way up to the heavens. And then I got back down a cinder block fell on the back of my neck.

LAVANDERA (on camera): The only section of the school somewhat intact is that bathroom and a couple of teachers Tammy included decided to move the students in there at the last second and then everything erupted. The walls started caving in.

This car blown into the side of the wall. If there have been students on the other side, it could have been devastating. With the very last second, the teachers decided to move those students in to that area and that's what saved their lives. (voice-over): Despite what you see here, everybody at the school survived the tornado strike. There were lots of tears but Tammy says the students were brave.

GLASGOW: I mean, they were calm.

LAVANDERA (on camera): Really?

GLASGOW: Surprisingly very calm.

LAVANDERA: Why do you think that is?

GLASGOW: I think they felt safe. I mean, you know, we did our best to take care of them and make them feel loved and secure.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): As we talked, she found a muddy paper that brought tears to her eyes.

(on camera): Was that an end of year award?

GLASGOW: Yes. Supposed to be given in a couple of days.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): A beautiful handwriting award a little boy named Jackson was supposed to receive this week. Tammy Glasgow won't let the tornado take away what Jackson earned.

(on camera): What do you want to tell your students if you could see them right now?

GLASGOW: I love them. I miss them. I know we just have three days left but I just -- I want to make sure they're all right.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: I mean, it's just -- it's just amazing to watch that when you realize what people are capable of.

You know, so many people are asking -- you know, Briarwood, the school is completely gone. You showed the bathroom only thing standing, but do any of these schools have shelters or not?

LAVANDERA: You know, it's interesting. Tammy has an older son who is in high school. Not too far away from there. It's a school that was built in the last 10 to 15 years and that school has a shelter, a safe place where all of the students can be rushed in to and huddled in to one safe place, but a lot of the older schools don't have those shelters necessarily.

We spoke with a lot of people today who were saying -- say, you know, we need to have the conversation about whether or not these shelters need to be put in and whether the money should be spent to put in the shelters at all of the schools around Oklahoma given how much this state has to battle tornadoes. It's not something to go away and we heard it from several people today -- Erin.

BURNETT: And, Ed, you know, we were just talking to one student at that Briarwood school, Hezekiah, and, you know, he was saying he wasn't sure he wanted to go back to the school, but you have talked to teachers, to people who are there. Do they see this as a miracle?

You know, today when we first found out that this was the most powerful tornado there is. Not the second more powerful, that evidence came from Briarwood. It's completely gone, and yet every child survived.

LAVANDERA: You know, someone like Tammy -- I think Tammy probably speaks for what many of the teachers must be feeling. They walk out of there and you just turn around and look at what's left behind and what you essentially have emerged out of and you walk away scratching your head. No real way to explain how everyone could have survived and why it was that the structure around those bathrooms and the one closet where the kids huddled in, you know, were able to walk away from that. They walk away in amazement.

BURNETT: It is just -- it is incredible. As you see those images next to Ed and then you see those children and then you think of that image of Jim and Hezekiah embracing and the stories of survive.

Ed, thank you very much.

Still to come, our Chris Cuomo went into the air this afternoon to see the damage. As we have been telling you, this tornado hit at an area where 200,000 people live. And you can see the images of rubble and devastation. But from the air what does it look like?

Chris is going to show you those pictures after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: All right. I want to check in with Anderson Cooper with a look at what's coming up on "A.C. 360." Hi, Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Erin.

Yes, we, of course, are live from Moore, Oklahoma, tonight on the program. But, now, you've probably seen the amazing video of a mom finding her son at his school right after the tornado, her son was alive and well, and her thanking the teacher who kept her son safe.

Tonight, we're going to reunite that mom and the teacher, Brenda and Camden Brezell (ph), her son, with his teacher, Wenell Nias (ph). It is an amazing story of courage and strength.

We're also going to meet another teacher whose quick thinking enabled her to keep her students safe. She grabbed several students, rushed them into a closet at Plaza Towers Elementary. We'll also speak with her husband who raced to the school realizing the school was in danger to try to help in the search and rescue efforts. We've also heard a lot about storm shelters and how they save lives.

Our Gary Tuchman is going to take us down inside one of them to see how they're built. He'll tell us why more people don't have them in this area. Of course, all the latest on the ongoing search here. There is so much to cover. It begins at the top of the hour, Erin.

BURNETT: All right, Anderson. We're looking forward to seeing you in just a few minutes.

And, you know, when the tornado touched down in Moore on Monday, it caught a lot of people off guard. You know, a big part of the reason for that is there actually had been a rather big lull in severe storms and tornadoes so far in 2013. Prior to this tornado, only about half the usual number of tornadoes for this time of year had actually been reported, which is a pretty stunning drop. Unusually cool and dry conditions in southern states reduced tornado activity by denying spring storms what they need, which is moist, warm air. And that is what fuels tornadoes.

Yet what might amaze you is that even with fewer storms, America still has the bulk of the entire planet's tornado activity. That brings me to tonight's number, 75 percent. That is the percentage of the world's tornadoes that occur in America.

Every year, the United States averages between 800 and 1,000 recorded tornadoes. The number two country on the list is Canada, and they only get about 100. By the way, yes, you would note, Canada is cooler, so it doesn't necessarily have to be southern.

But the question is why are so many in the United States? According to the Discovery Channel, it's a combination of things. Geography is one of them, climate is another and topography is another, because America, which is home to the area known as Tornado Alley, which sort of hugs there that Midwestern corridor, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, has a lot of flat low-lying geographic regions and a climate that's conducive to intense thunderstorms, and those obviously are required for tornadoes.

Now, when you hear that laid out, it may sound plausible but it still doesn't really answer why there's such a discrepancy in the numbers. I mean, you know, I've traveled and in other parts of the world there's a lot of places that seem not unlike Tornado Alley yet they don't experience the same level of severe storms. It's a pretty incredible thing when you think about it and it goes to show us how little we understand about nature and why what happens, happens.

Well, OUTFRONT next more of our breaking news coverage from the devastation in Oklahoma. We'll be back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: And for the pictures we've been showing you on the ground in Oklahoma, you can see the devastation. But when you see the damage from the air, to an area 200,000 people live in, it gives an even greater sense of the destruction. Chris Cuomo literally just got off a helicopter going over the affected area of the 17-mile-long path of the tornado, and here is what he saw.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to take you through the tornado's path beginning to end. If you look down, you see the debris field. There's a brown line going across that field. That is the tornado's path. You'll see what happens when that path starts to get into a populated area.

Look at the difference. Between having your home intact and having it just be piles of splinters. At its widest point, the tornado was 1.3 miles wide. But it's the area of concentration that was much more narrow.

What you're looking down at now is where we were this morning. The big building is the movie theater. Next to it is the bowling alley. You'll see the little brown strips where the alleys were. Next to that is the medical center which is completely decimated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: And, Chris, you know, it's amazing looking at your pictures there, when you were showing that brown path in the fields, when it was in an unpopulated area, it seemed -- it seemed so innocuous and frankly, rather small. Then, all of a sudden, it's this massive populated area.

When you first saw that switch from rural to the suburbs, when it hit where people lived, what did you see when you saw that point of impact?

CUOMO: Well, there's such intentionality to it, right? It looks like it just takes a course, a familiar course here. I was listening earlier on as I was getting wired up and you were talking about why this place. There are other places that have different aspects to it, similar aspects, and it's a strong point.

I don't know the answer to it but I do know this: in '99, 2003 and with this tornado, the path has been very similar. So these same paths of community have dealt with the same risk and it raises questions about what type of prevention there is. But there's also warning fatigue on the other side of it where people are so used to hearing about the next big one that they stop -- they start to not believe that the risk is great as they're being told.

But the real reason we wanted to go in the air was to show the randomness, Erin, the difference between who made it and who didn't, and also to just remind people how complete the devastation is here, and how much need there is.

And to go to CNN.com/impact to help out if you can.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Chris, thank you very much. We hope people do that. Of course, you're going to see Chris' full tour tomorrow on "STARTING POINT".

But now, more of our continuing coverage of the devastating tornado continues with "A.C. 360."