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Tornado Deaths Likely To Spike; Grim Updates to Tornado Damage; How to Help Affected Residents

Aired May 21, 2013 - 05:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everyone. We are live in Moore, Oklahoma, population 55,000. The last 24 hours has simply been devastating. This is still very much an active scene. The stories still being written as rescuers look for more survivors. We see flashlights in houses nearby here. Overnight, they're going through the pieces right now. Sunrise, just a few hours from now.

There will be much more information, obviously, at first light. The medical examiner's office expecting about 40 more bodies this morning, about half of them children. Once those are confirmed, the death toll here could rise sharply around 91 people killed.

Let's talk more about the elementary school just a short distance from where we're standing right now. Plaza Towers Elementary where at least seven children were killed. I want to bring in Pamela Brown who's covering this angle for us. Andin some ways, this is what's tugging at people's heartstrings around the country.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's just agonizing, John. There are two elementary schools that were in the direct path of that massive tornado. The tornado bulldozed through the school. The school right behind us here, Plaza Towers, all that's left are just a couple of walls. Across town at Briarwood Elementary, parents came frantically searching for their kids, only to find them still crouched down on the ground with their hands over their heads. As you can imagine, it was a very tearful reunion.







BROWN: And at Briarwood Elementary there, all children were accounted for. Right behind us here at Plaza Towers Elementary, seven children found dead, John. Right now, Rescue teams still out there searching through the rubble. Some parents still waiting to learn the fate of their child. I know you're a parent, John. It gives you chills.

BERMAN: You know, obviously, there are so many fears of that number of the seven killed here at Plaza Towers. That number will rise. Meanwhile, we look at this (INAUDIBLE). And I look at those parents and you can't hug your kids tightly enough. When you see your child after that, there's no way to squeeze them tightly enough.

Those hugs were some of the most amazing things I've ever seen. Just stunning. Obviously, it is a massive search and rescue effort here in Moore. There is so much to do. And crews are working furiously, digging for survivors. You see them almost everywhere you look. An elite search and rescue team coming up from Texas to help the first responders.

Right now, there's no running water in a large part of this town. And workers are busy trying to get service restored. There are a lot of issues here. George Howell has been on the ground here, covering all these angles -- George.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, and this is really my first time to see that video, the Briarwood, I mean, those reunions. It's incredible to watch that. Very different story, though, here at Plaza Towers, because, you know, there were some parents who did find their children. There were some who are still looking.

They will continue to be looking today, you know? But, here's the thing, one thing that I noticed, you know, I spoke with one woman who was looking for her niece. I spoke with one family, though, who they were able to find their children. Really interesting to talk to them. Let's listen to this clip that I had just the other day.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thank God that I got there in my 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?


HOWELL: So, what you see there, that's an example of parents that, you know, got really lucky. They were there. They went to the school. They found their children. They were crouched down in that position, that storm position just to wait through the storm. That's how they found their children. But you know, you also find people who are still looking and that's the tough part.

BERMAN: And they have that lost look in their eyes, which is one of the most devastating parts of this. George, another thing people talk about in this town so much. They talk about 1999, right? they have that lost look in their eyes, which is one of the most devastating parts of this. another thing people talk about so much. They talk about 1999, right? They never talk (ph) about this storm May 3rd, 1999. How does that experience affect what's going on here right now?

HOWELL: You know, interesting because that was a very big storm, that tornado, that EF-5, I believe, was --

BERMAN: Way 300 plus miles an hour wind.

HOWELL: You Incredible storm. Came through here. And what you can tell, people had a plan. People know how to respond to these things. So, the schools have a plan. The children know what to do when a storm like that comes through. We understand that they had about a 16-minute leave time before this storm. Typically, it's about 13 minutes.

So, they had some time to prepare. But, you know, a storm like this, you can only do so much. And you know, here we are, now, with these parents still looking for their children.

BROWN: Really quickly, George. I know you're from this area. You went to school in this area. I think a lot of people are asking, why wasn't there an underground shelter. Is that unusual that there wasn't an underground shelter here?

HOWELL: You know, some schools have them and some don't. I grew up in Austin, but I was born in Amarillo, and that's tornado alley. I mean, I remember being a kid in third or fourth grade. Big tornadoes coming through. And you know, you get in that position. You crouch down. You wait when you hear those sirens. My elementary school did not have an underground -- BERMAN: Nor this Plaza Towers.

HOWELL: Yes. But, you know, today, we did take shelter in a school nearby in Shawnee that did have an underground shelter. So, it's either (ph) miss and many of the homes also have shelter, some do, some don't.

BERMAN: One of the things we're also talking about this morning, as we see the lightning flashing around us is the weather. What is in store for today? Is it another dangerous day ahead of us?

Also, I should point that out that there's this, there's debris flying around in our faces, very much part of the atmosphere here, because everything has been tossed up, blown up into the air, and being disperse now as we speak, but we want to know the forecast today. Are there more tornadoes coming? Let's go to Indra Petersons at the severe weather center in Atlanta -- Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. This is the toughest part about what we do. We still have this threat for severe weather in the forecast. Currently, you can actually see a lot of instability still out there. Tornado watches in effect. And really, as we zoom in a little bit closer towards Moore, that's where we start to see the threat for more of this heavy showers that are moving through the area.

So, right just east of the area again, we're talking about the severe thunderstorm watch. But again, what we're going to be talking about is the threat for more tornadoes today. This is an outbreak, and it's called an outbreak for a reason. Look at this wide span once again today with still a moderate risk possible. Take a look there, now from Dallas kind of really going in through Shreveport and even out through Arkansas.

We have that threat once again today for the potential for violent, long-live tornadoes. And again, this threat, even the slight risk really extends all the way through Wisconsin, even Michigan, down through portions of Texas. And keep in mind, just last week, Granbury, Texas, you were under a slight risk and you still had an EF- 4.

So, don't pay attention just where the moderate is. We're talking a wide swath of an area with another day here of that instability.

BERMAN: Millions of people potentially affected. All right. Indra, thank you so much for that forecast.

And again, we are standing amidst the pure devastation here. Many people here in Moore, Oklahoma, picking through the pieces there still in a state of disbelief with their homes destroyed. They are desperately searching for loved ones. We will continue our live coverage from the ground here in the aftermath of this deadly, deadly tornado.


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to the special edition of EARLY START. Forty-six minutes -- 47 minutes past the hour. So many people in Moore, Oklahoma, asking how and why this morning. There might not be any answers. Just one tragic or terrifying story after the other. Here's a look at how the day unfolded from the funnel clouds formation to its wake.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These are live pictures of a funnel cloud that's just developed. It appears to be on the ground in Oklahoma City. This all just minutes after the National Weather Service issued a warning for Metropolitan Oklahoma City, an entire population of 171,000 people.

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

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just like on the movie "Twister," there were horses and stuff flying everywhere. You know, it's indescribable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you feeling physically? Do you feel lucky?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel pretty lucky, yes. Feel pretty lucky. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the most disturbing picture to me, though, Jake. This is a school and the school took a direct hit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just heard some lady down the street. She was screaming about the elementary school. So, I headed that way, got there -- it's pretty much gone. Me and four other guys pulled a teacher out. She was on top of three kids. The kids were fine. She was hurt pretty bad. We put her on the door and then put her on top of the jeep and wheeled her out to the ambulances because there were so many cars around.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're about two blocks away from the elementary school that was reportedly hit hard by the tornado. As far as my eyes can see, the homes are demolished. There's debris everywhere. Chimneys cracked, houses ripped apart. The outsides of the home completely leveled. The neighborhood is not standing anymore. It's completely gone.


SAMBOLIN: Wow. To find out how you can help the victims of the Oklahoma storms, visit our impact your world page. That's at

Death and injury tolls, well, they continue to rise. Straight ahead, we have the latest on the victims of the deadly tornado. How many have perished and how many are fighting for their lives? That's coming up.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. A grim update to the killer tornado that ripped through that area. The medical examiner now says of the 40 bodies, they're expecting to receive about half are children. That is in addition to at least 20 children who are among the 51 people that are confirmed dead. The tornado said to be an EF- 4, which is the second strongest variety.

It was packing winds ranging from 166 miles per hour to 200 miles per hour. A 145 people were sent to the hospital with injuries ranging from minor to serious. Nick Valencia is outside Moore Medical Center. What can you tell us, Nick?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Zoraida. We're outside Moore Medical Center, the only hospital that services Moore, Oklahoma, which makes this all the much more tragic for those patients that had to be transferred other places. You can see behind me, the parking lot. It looks like a junk yard. The entire second floor just scraps of metal, reduced to rubble.

This hospital took a direct hit from that EF-4 tornado. There are reports from a local newspaper that the patients, at least, 30 patients inside at the time of the EF-4 tornado, that they were taken into the basement, which could explain how they were all able to survive and escape without injury-related -- tornado injury-related injuries. I want to bring in Ken Garcia from the American Red Cross. He's been talking to us throughout the morning off camera. Ken, what kind of help and services can the residents of Moore expect?

KEN GARCIA, AMERICAN RED CROSS, SPOKESPERSON: Well, right now, we've got shelters that are open across the area. We've got three, specifically, for this one. One is Sanders United Medical -- or excuse me, United Methodist, Moore Community Center, and then, we've also got one in the New Castle Storm Shelter. These three that are actually open. The populations have been relatively low.

In Oklahoma, we take care of our own. So, a lot of people have been able to staying with their friends, some family. But nonetheless, the shelters are available. Our volunteers are working with first responders and making sure they've got meals and drinks. And they are, obviously, starting to cool off a little bit here. So, they want to make sure they're staying warm as well.

VALENCIA: Ken, give us figure on just how many residents stayed in your shelters overnight?

GARCIA: I know the one at St. Andrew's. We had about a population of 56 or so that did come in, but that was kind of a come and go sort of deal. And again, we tend to see low populations, mostly because in Oklahoma, you know, we find other places to go. A lot of people don't want to go to that shelter, but they're still here. They're available for folks. We want to make sure that they know they can get the help.

VALENCIA: And we saw that with local residents in the neighborhood that we were in yesterday, neighbors helping neighbors. In fact, we spoke to one resident who dug his neighbor out of the rubble. If there's any part of this story that's uplifting, it's the residents helping each other. I want you to get into Moore Medical Center. You said there was an event held here in March. It was quite a different scene then, wasn't it?

GARCIA: Yes. You know, every year here in March -- March is Red Cross month, and they host a chili cook-off. Volunteers make chili. The hospital staff make chili. Local firefighters come in, they make their really spicy chili, by the way. But yes, this was held in March, not too long ago. We do it all the time every year. And, now, this is what's -- what we're seeing behind us.

It's absolutely devastating. I mean, when I was driving in, my jaw dropped when I saw this. I mean, I wasn't used to that.

VALENCIA: Ken, thank you very much for your insight and to give us a little context about Moore Medical Center. We're unaware of what happens next, Zoraida, to those patients that were transported to nearby hospitals. We'll work on getting that information for you. Right now, we'll send it back to you in New York.

SAMBOLIN: Incredible. It looks totally devastating behind you. We appreciate that and the Red Cross chiming in also for folks who want to help. And still to come on EARLY START, tornado alley has had its share of twisters, but the one that ripped through Moore County has changed the landscape dramatically. You'll see the dramatic before and after coming up next.