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PIERS MORGAN LIVE
Painstaking Search For Survivors Of Deadly Tornado In Moore, Oklahoma
Aired May 21, 2013 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PIERS MORGAN, CNN HOST: This is PIERS MORGAN LIVE. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world.
Tonight, a twister so big you could see it from outer space. Look at these amazing pictures. The tornado 1.3 miles wide as it carved a 17-mile path of destruction through Moore in Oklahoma. Rated an EF-5 with winds up to more than 200 miles an hour. The damage from the storm expected to top over $1 billion.
Tonight, survival and hope. Twenty-four dead, more than 200 injured, and incredibly, 100 people pulled alive from the wreckage. We'll hear more from their stories later.
Also the family who emerged from a shelter where they hid from the storm's fury to see this.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.
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MORGAN: And the Oklahoma photographer who caught this incredible moment on camera.
Plus, what promises to be an emotional interview with country superstar Toby Keith devastated over what's happened to his hometown. He's just landed in Oklahoma tonight and is rushing to the scene of the disaster where he will talk exclusively to me.
CNN's Chris Cuomo and Gary Tuchman are in Moore, first, tonight.
I want to bring you and Chris straight away. You took to the air for a helicopter tour of this devastation. Let's take a quick look at what you saw.
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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 a pile of splinters. At its widest point the tornado was 1.3 miles wide. But its area of concentration 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.
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MORGAN: You can see much more of Chris' helicopter tour tomorrow morning on "STARTING POINT." He joins me now.
Chris, you covered many storms, many disasters. Put this one into context for me in terms of scale.
CUOMO: I think it is difficult right now, Piers, because it's so fresh. And when you're in these situations, everything's so immediate to you, and it gives it a very heightened sense. That said, I don't believe there's anything that does violence the way a tornado does. It was described today by the lieutenant governor as a lawnmower blade and, you know, tornado is the Spanish word, tornad, to turn.
And it really cuts through things the way a hurricane doesn't, the way even a wildfire doesn't destroy things. So you get the randomness of fire where some homes are chosen, others aren't. The sustained violence and intensity of a hurricane. And there's probably nothing worse. That's why we wanted to get up above it, Piers, to get some perspective of the randomness and just the violence of how this community was torn apart.
MORGAN: And I also heard an extraordinary thing today, that the power of this tornado at one stage, people thought was maybe three times the power of the Hiroshima bomb, for example. When you hear statistics like that it gives you some sense of just how extreme the violence is and we saw those images of it sitting for quite sustained periods of time on certain areas, just obliterating everything that was underneath it.
CUOMO: Absolutely. Nothing stands a chance in the path of this type of natural force. And you see it on every level here on the ground. I mean, the girders behind me from this bowling alley, most of them are an inch thick of solid steel, twisted like a pretzel. And yet at the same time, Piers, I know this is something you like to pick up on in these situations as well, the strength of this tornado is every bit as -- is every bit matched and bettered by the strength of the people here.
We heard about 100 rescues. Those are official numbers. We've been down these streets, Piers. They've been pulling each other out of rubble. The shelter numbers have been low because people pull you in like family here.
Oklahomans are very special. They've dealt with situations like this, it's almost part of the culture here, and they respond with resolve that is unusual. And I think that that is why a place like this is able to heal, is able to move forward. They say it's a prayerful community and it is that and other things as well. It's one where people come out, they do the right thing. There's someone who just started a barbecue randomly up the street from here, Piers, just to feed people who may need it.
It's a special place and it's going to need it because the devastation here is about as thick as I've seen.
MORGAN: And, Chris, just finally, clear up for me if you can the confusion over the death toll, because last night on the midnight show we did we were told by the chief medical examiner's office that it could be as many as 91 people. They were confirming 51, with 40 more bodies apparently on the way. That was dramatically reduced this morning. What was the explanation for that?
CUOMO: With a little bit of caution, they don't really know the numbers yet, OK. I know that the different MEs have been -- the medical examiners have been meeting, they've been trying to get their numbers straight. They don't really know yet. They could go up. So with that caveat in place journalistically, I'm happy that we had the wrong numbers going forward on this. And the reason for it is, Piers, information is sloppy in these situations. They can't get people in the field.
A lot of it's duplicative. A lot of it is word of mouth. A lot of these agencies aren't used to working together and frankly it's just difficult. There's so much emotional pain, there's so much trauma on the ground that the numbers can get messy. And that's why we try to be careful but this is a very rare instance where we are adjusting down at this point, Piers.
CUOMO: And I'm happy for that. I hope it stays.
MORGAN: Yes, I couldn't agree more. Chris, thank you very much indeed.
Gary Tuchman, I will go to you now. What's been the community and volunteer response to the devastation? Because as Chris was saying, they've all come together in the most remarkable way but it remains an absolutely devastating scene.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, it's unbelievably devastating, Piers. And earlier today, right now it's sunny out but earlier today, it was storming, it was hailing and it was actually quite cold. And people who weren't victimized, whose houses were fine, we saw them all over the city of Moore today going to their neighbors' houses were damaged, picking through, helping them out in the cold and the rain and the hail.
And it was just amazing seeing that spirit as Chris mentioned. One of the things we notice when we cover these tornadoes is the first thing people want when they come back, when they come back to houses like this that are gone, they want to find their pictures. They want to find heirlooms, they want to find their videotapes, things that mean something to them, things that can't be replaced. And we watched a lot of that today.
MORGAN: Absolutely. Extraordinary moving scenes, so many tales of heroism and courage. And in terms of the operation to rescue people, they're saying that that effectively is over. They believe that they've covered all the ground now and found everyone that needs to be found but I'm about to interview somebody who still hasn't located her grandparents. Is it possible that there are still people that are trapped?
TUCHMAN: You know, when we were in Haiti, Piers, in January of 2010, rescues were happening days and weeks later so we can always hope for that. We always hope that happens. What is a marvel, though, I've never seen such damage in such a small area. I mean, it is comparable to what we saw in Joplin two years ago. And the death toll obviously is way too high at 24 and it may go higher.
But this easily, from the damage I'm seeing and from my years of covering tornadoes, if you would have told me that 500 people died in this tornado with the amount of damage we saw, I would not have been surprised. Right now it seems absolutely amazing that the number's as low as it is. And as Chris said, we hope it stays that way.
MORGAN: Yes, it does seem absolutely miraculous. Gary, thank you very much indeed.
Joining me now is Cassandra Jenkins, whose grandparents have been missing since the storm hit. Her daughters Kelsey and Jan are with her along with her father, Tommy Foutch.
Welcome to you all. Cassandra, this is obviously an incredibly worrying time for you. Explain to me exactly what happened to your grandparents.
CASSANDRA JENKINS, GRANDPARENTS STILL MISSING: Well, I mean, at this time we're not even exactly sure. All we know is that their home is still left standing, however, they have not been seen or heard from since the storm hit. We've located or we've tried to locate them at every hospital, every shelter, every Red Cross, anything that we can possibly reach out to, we have, and they're still not located.
They are both in their 80s. My grandmother suffers from some dementia. My grandfather has some heart trouble. We know we've been without -- they've been without medication now for two days which is scary in itself. We are just very, very worried.
MORGAN: And just to go over the chronology of their movements, what we know is they left their home in the heart of Moore to go to a funeral in a neighboring town. The church service ended I believe at 2:30. Everybody at the funeral saw them leave and it was believed they were heading back to Moore?
JENKINS: That is correct. They left the funeral home about 35, 45 minutes away at 2:30, between 2:15 and 2:30, and we don't know if they made it back to Moore before the storm hit or not. So at this point, we are not sure if they're in the city of Moore somewhere or if they're somewhere between Moore and Maysville. We have tracked back and forth numerous family members trying to find anything, any clues that they can possibly find and nothing.
MORGAN: What are the authorities telling you when you've asked them about this?
JENKINS: Well, the Moore Police Department and the Highway Patrol both, we wanted to put out a silver alert on them since they are both very elderly and in bad health, and we were told they're not doing that at this time because of the catastrophe, and all we can do is file missing persons reports with the Red Cross and put them on registration lists here and there. They really have been of no help at all. And we've kind of been left to our own vices to try and find them.
MORGAN: I mean, obviously it could be that they heard about a warning and they went off to another town and you just haven't been able to get hold of them. They don't have cell phones or it could be they went back to Moore and they are still trapped somewhere, we can't rule that out. Anything could have happened. But I can quite understand why you would be so desperate to have any kind of news.
We're showing their picture again now on the screen. I urge anyone who's watching this, any of the viewers who have any knowledge at all of Thomas and Claudia Foutch, look at their pictures. They have not been seen since this tornado struck yesterday and if you do see them, tweet me immediately, @piersmorgan or @piersmorganlive, the show's Twitter handle.
We're desperate to find them. Hopefully there's good news that they are safe somewhere, just been unable to contact you.
Just describe for me, Cassandra, what kind of people are they? If people may have come across them or seen them, describe them, their character, their personalities.
JENKINS: They are God-given people. I mean, they are very loving. They would give the shirt off their backs to anybody. They love their family. They love their grandkids, their great grandkids. This is their life is these kids and their family, and their church family. And it is very out of character. They have never gone this far without trying to reach out to somebody. They mean a lot to a lot of people.
MORGAN: Well, listen, my heart goes out to you and to your family. I wish you all the very best in tracking them down. I hope and pray that this ends happily for you and that they are somewhere safe. Again, I urge anybody watching this who has any information about Thomas and Claudia Foutch to contact the authorities, to contact the family, if you know them, or to tweet us, at the show or just call CNN if you have any information. Because we need to find this elderly couple as soon as possible.
Cassandra and your family, thank you very much for joining me.
JENKINS: Thank you so much.
MORGAN: Heartbreaking stories. So many from this terrible tragedy.
The stories of heroism at two elementary schools in Moore are equally amazing. Joining me now is David Wheeler. His son Gabriel is a third grader at Briarwood Elementary. And with us on the phone is Gabriel's teacher, Julie Simon, who protected him during the twister.
Welcome to you all.
David, let me ask you, first of all, where were you when you heard there was going to be this huge tornado? And what did you do?
DAVID WHEELER, DROVE 100 MILES TO FIND SON: Well, I'm an educator in the Putnam City School District and I had to stay at my school to make sure our students were safe, and I was watching the TV as the tornado was heading down towards Gabriel's school, and as soon as it hit the school, I was able to just rush home and just go 100 miles an hour on the highway and went through neighborhoods and had to run about a mile, and hop -- got some -- got on a couple of trucks and took about three and a half hours to find him.
MORGAN: And that moment when you found him, describe that to me.
D. WHEELER: Happiest day of my life. It was just wonderful. It was the worst day built into one of the happiest moments of my life. I already knew my daughter and my wife were safe and all I cared about at that time was my son, and other family members, and when I saw him run down the street with Miss Simon, everything was OK for us at that moment.
MORGAN: And, Gabriel, let me talk to you for a moment. Obviously a terrifying experience for you. Tell me what was going through your mind as this tornado struck.
GABRIEL WHEELER, STUDENT AT BRIARWOOD ELEMENTARY: I was really scared. Just the ceiling collapsed on me and I was really scared. Everyone kept on crying. It was a really scary moment.
MORGAN: And your teacher, I believe, was extremely brave. Tell me about that.
G. WHEELER: Yes. During the time when the ceiling collapsed, she put her hand over our heads and she got a little cut on her hand because of a brick.
MORGAN: Well, we've got your teacher, Julie Simon, on the phone now.
Julie Simon, can you hear me?
JULIE SIMON, MOORE, OKLAHOMA TEACHER: Yes, I can.
MORGAN: What an extraordinary experience for all of you. It sounds like so many teachers, you put your own safety to one side and just were desperate to protect these children. Tell me about what was going through your mind as this all happened. SIMON: I just wanted my babies beside me. I had seven kids left with me that were in my classroom and we were all sticking together and I just grabbed them and held them close and, Gabe, which just wonderful, and Gabe, I'm sorry I couldn't make it up there. I wanted to be there but I only had 30 minutes to get there and I didn't think that I would get there to come and stand beside you.
But you were so brave and I'm so proud of you. You did everything that you were taught to do and you guys didn't look up, you kept your heads down. And when all that stuff was flying down, you know, you kept yourself safe and I just -- I'm so connected. I'll forever be connected with my students of this year, going through this with me.
MORGAN: Julie, I, like so many people, just seeing this horrifying tornado on a TV screen, but you've actually lived through it. What was the experience like in terms of the power and the damage that it was causing?
JULIE SIMON: It was like the three little pigs. The big bad wolf coming to huff and puff on your house, I swear. There was this monster coming, and we could hear it approaching. And the debris was falling, we could hear the houses falling across the street and we heard the freight train sound, and the debris got louder and closer. You knew that it was coming right straight for you. You knew it was getting closer and it was faster, and you weren't feeling any of it yet, so you're thinking well, maybe it's all outside. But then you started feeling it fall on you. And then we didn't think we were going to make it.
We're just so lucky to be alive. We just didn't think we would be looking up and seeing the sky. I think the insulation and the sheetrock that fell on us and broke all to pieces, I think that that protected us from the heavier things that fell on us, because it kind of cushioned it. And I really believe that.
MORGAN: Absolutely miraculous escape. Gabriel, what do you want to say to your teacher?
GABRIEL WHEELER, STUDENT AT BRIARWOOD ELEMENTARY: I want to say she's a really nice teacher, and she was the best teacher I ever had. She's really, really nice.
DAVID WHEELER, FATHER: We love her.
MORGAN: David, you as the father, as you say, it was the worst day of your life for a few hours, then became one of the best days of your life when you realized that your boy had come through this. You owe a lot to this teacher and to so many teachers. They have all shown incredible bravery. What would you say to her?
DAVID WHEELER: I don't know if we can say anything. She helped save my son's life. She helped save other students' lives. We're proud of her, and we all take an oath as an educator to protect the kids, and she fulfilled that duty better than anyone. And so, we want to thank her, and she's a member of our family for the rest of our lives. She'll be a part of it forever. There's nothing that we can give to her that will repay her. We just thank you, Julie. And we love you.
SIMON: Well, I love you, too. I didn't do anything that anybody else wouldn't have done. We all just helped each other. And you know, we just -- we just did what we had to do. I don't feel like a hero --
DAVID WHEELER: What we were trained to do.
SIMON: We did what we had to do.
MORGAN: You know, Julie, I just have to say, there have been -- there have been so many appalling incidents recently in America where teachers -- I'm thinking of Sandy Hook and other incidents, and now this, where teachers have really shown outstanding heroism. And you always say the same thing. We just did our jobs.
But you do more than your jobs. I think what you did yesterday with these children, I'm sure David would agree with me and Gabriel certainly would, was just incredible heroism. And on behalf of everyone involved and all the children, all the families, that you helped save yesterday, I just want to thank you very much indeed.
SIMON: Well, thank you. We're just glad to be alive.
DAVID WHEELER: She is a hero.
MORGAN: Yes, she's a true hero. David, I'm so happy for you that your little boy's okay. And that your school, although badly devastated, wasn't as bad as the other school where so many other young children lost their lives. I can only begin to imagine. I'm the father of four children, three boys myself, I can only imagine the horror that must have been going through your mind as you saw this devastation. I'm so glad it turned out well for you.
DAVID WHEELER: Thank you. I just know the community all came together and that's what we do in Oklahoma. We just pull together as family, and that's all we do. Here in Oklahoma.
MORGAN: You're amazing people. No one more amazing than you, Julie. Julie Simon, David Wheeler, and Gabriel Wheeler, thank you all very much.
SIMON: I love you, Gabe.
DAVID WHEELER: Thank you. You hear that? She said she loves you.
GABRIEL WHEELER: I love you, too.
MORGAN: Thanks again, everybody. What an amazing story.
Coming next, hometown heartbreak. I talk to country music superstar Toby Keith, who grew up in Moore, Oklahoma and rushed back tonight for a firsthand look at the destruction.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had to pull a car out of the front hallway off a teacher. I don't know what that lady's name is, but she had three little kids underneath her. Good job, teach.
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MORGAN: A father's tearful thank you to the teacher who saved children from a tornado. The devastation in Moore, Oklahoma is heartbreaking to see and unimaginable if it's your hometown. Joining me now is country superstar Toby Keith, who is from Moore.
Toby, thank you for joining me. I know you just got back to Moore. Tell me your reaction on seeing this utter devastation.
TOBY KEITH, COUNTRY SINGER: Well, we flew out yesterday after there was another tornado that a lot of people aren't talking about that came through the day before that went to Shawnee. And this one, I flew out of here, went to Nashville. My sister's house is about three miles down here. She got hit, so I needed to come back and assist her. So I flew back in, and we circled in and got to see the devastation. It's pretty awful.
MORGAN: I mean, Moore is pretty much your hometown. These are streets that you've walked, that you've lived in, that your family have lived in. It must feel horrendous to see what's happened to it.
KEITH: Yes. Right where we're standing right here, I literally grew up and went to grade school four streets over here in the Plaza Towers is the next grade school over from Southgate. I've been on, biked and walked up all these streets for years as a kid. Got a lot of family and friends here.
I want to tell everybody to contact Salvation Army or Red Cross. We don't have a laundry list of what to do here. We just got on the ground. These people are resilient, and they're helping each other out. They're as prepared as anybody. And they'll rebound. But right now, the first thing to do is probably call Red Cross, Salvation Army, support that. And then they'll get a laundry list together and then we can help get it started.
MORGAN: Toby, you said your sister lives three miles, I think you said. Your mother, I believe, was also in the path of this tornado. Is she okay?
KEITH: She's fine. It missed her by about maybe three-quarters of a mile north of her. But my sister, it got her house. It didn't completely annihilate it and take it away. She gets to keep her stuff. But the house is not livable. But I had to get back here and help her board it up, so we landed and went straight over there.
But I saw it come circling back in today, couple hours ago, I got to see it from the airplane. The cameras won't show the damage that you can see with your own eye. It's pretty amazing. MORGAN: That's what people are telling me who are on the scene there. Have you ever seen anything quite like this in your life?
KEITH: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. This is a bad one. But '99 was bad. We've had a lot of them, a lot of these tornadoes that don't get reported that aren't quite on the ground this long. But Oklahoma's prepared. They have some of the best meteorologists in the world. We knew last Thursday that this super cell was going to be in here with the dry line, and it was perfect symptoms for disaster. So people were prepared as they can be, and Mother Nature's just not going to be tamed every time.
MORGAN: You know these people better than most. Describe the resilience as you described it of the people of Moore.
KEITH: Well, I was telling people earlier, I said, you know, this little neighborhood we're standing right here, you go down five streets, and there's not much damage. Those people are helping these people. Maybe 20 years ago, their forefathers were -- these people were down there helping those. So, when they cut through here like this, annihilate, first thing people do is get you transportation, get water, take care of your kids, you know, pray for the ones that -- be glad you made it through and pray for the ones that lost people in these things.
But Mother Nature, as violent as that thing was -- bad thing about it is didn't just pass through and skip and hop. It just sat in one place for a long time, and it churned and churned. And it was moving along good, then it would stop and just churn. It was very violent.
MORGAN: You obviously remember the 1999 tornado. How does this compare in terms of the scale of the devastation? Is it worse?
KEITH: Everything I've heard, they're very close as far as miles per hour, but you're talking about one of them being 225 and one being 210 or something. There's not much difference in that. They both started at the same place, they were both on the ground a long time. This one, this particular tornado, started on St. Pat's and veered straight off into the east for awhile. The other one kind of stayed to the Northeast. So, other than that, they looked identical. This street looks just like the streets did in that one. So, I mean, it's going to happen once in awhile.
But the good thing is we're resilient here. I'm proud to live here in this town, and I've always called it home, I've always lived here. I know exactly by living four streets over here, having sheetrock fly through your window at 3:00 in the morning, it was time to get in the cellar. And you just have to be resilient, get back up. A year from now, these people will be vibrant and moving around, and God bless the ones that didn't make it.
MORGAN: Toby, finally, I hear you may be putting together some kind of benefit concert for what's happened. Tell me about that.
KEITH: Well, always when these things happen, music people get together and I've had 500 text messages from people all over the music world saying what are we doing, you know, we want to help. That's just everybody's way. Like I said, this just happened yesterday. I just got on the ground so I've talked to people at OU, they've called me, maybe use the stadium. There's some more people trying to put one on down Chesapeake Arena in Oklahoma City. I don't know if everybody's going to unite, whatever. I'm in, and Moore knows I'm going to be here. But hopefully, hopefully the next couple days, we can sort it all out.
But I would say immediately, Red Cross and Salvation Army's the best place to help these people right now.
MORGAN: Yes, we certainly would love to help with any benefit ideas you have.
Toby, I do appreciate you coming to talk to us tonight. You literally landed within the last couple hours, and I know that you've got a lost work to do tonight with family, friends and other people in the area. Thank you very much indeed.
KEITH: Okay. See you, man.
MORGAN: Tomorrow night, Toby Keith will give Anderson Cooper a first-hand tour of Moore, Oklahoma, his hometown. That's on AC 360 tomorrow at 8:00.
Coming next, the hero teacher who was impaled as she protected her students from a twister. Amazing story,coming next.
MORGAN: The painstaking search for survivors of the deadly tornado in Moore, Oklahoma may be nearing its end. Now, joining me is Mayor Glenn Lewis, also Fire Chief Gary Bird. Welcome, gentlemen to you both. Mayor Lewis, let me start with you. What is the status of the City of Moore tonight?
MAYOR GLENN LEWIS, MOORE, OKLAHOMA: What is the what, I'm sorry?
MORGAN: What is the status? I mean are we in a situation now where you believe everybody is accounted for?
MAYOR LEWIS: Yes, sir. I do believe that. I think most everybody's been accounted for. And, right now we're going to go into the cleanup process. We'll still be looking, but I think we've gone past that now and we've already started the cleanup process in a lot of the city.
We've got the traffic lights on, on the south end of town and we're working on the rest of the city getting the power back on. So, we've got our water situation and our sewer back online. So, we're in pretty good shape as far as that goes.
MORGAN: I had a very moving interview with a woman called Cassandra Jenkins a little earlier, who her grandparents have disappeared and were last seen about 2:30 yesterday, believed to be heading back into Moore. Is it possible that they could still be somewhere just not found, trapped or whatever?
MAYOR LEWIS: It could be. That's quite possible. They may have gone on a trip out of town. I don't know. That's the first I've heard of this.
MORGAN: They were suggesting that they haven't had much help and clearly it's been very chaotic there. Would you be prepared to take a look at it for them, because they seem pretty desperate for some kind of information?
MAYOR LEWIS: Sure. We actually have a Red Cross station set up to relocate people and to -- for relatives to check in on them, and a lot of those have happened and maybe she should look at the red cross situation, it would be the first place I would check, and they have an online registry as well.
MORGAN: We can maybe put you in touch and --
MAYOR LEWIS: I will look into it.
MORGAN: Yes, we can put you in touch and we will reveal the details --
MAYOR LEWIS: I'll be glad to take a look at it.
MORGAN: We are going to reveal the details of the car they were driving also before the end of the show, so if anybody sees it, we can hopefully try and find out what happened to them. Fire Chief, Gary Bird. This has clearly been an awful thing to have to deal with for you and your men. Tell me about what it is like in reality having to literally pick up the pieces of the wreckage after this kind of tornado.
CHIEF GARY BIRD, MOORE, OKLAHOMA FIRE DEPARTMENT: Well, we've been through several tornadoes and it's kind of trial by fire. But, I'm very blessed with some well-trained men that step up to the challenge and we have lots of help from all the surrounding cities and all the communities in the city of Oklahoma and in Moore and in the nation.
They come from everywhere to help us and we have been very blessed with all the help and with the police officials, the fire officials, all the emergency management teams, and we can't say thank you enough to these people.
MORGAN: Well, I think you guys have all done an amazing job and that's the general consensus of everybody. I think it's miraculous that the death toll at the moment seems to be at 24, given the pictures we've seen and the devastation that was wrought. So, I thank you both, Mr. Mayor and to you, fire chief, on all the work you and your people have done.
MAYOR LEWIS: Thank you, sir.
MORGAN: Thank you very much, indeed.
CHIEF BIRD: Thanks for reporting our story.
MAYOR LEWIS: Thank you very much.
MORGAN: It's an important story to report. And, now I want to turn to a teacher with an extraordinary story. Suzanne Haley was impaled by the leg of a desk as she protected her students at Briarwood Elementary. We should warn you, some of the photographs taken are pretty graphic.
And, Suzanne Haley joins me now on the phone. Suzanne, we're looking at a picture, which tells it all, really. Your leg was literally speared. We believe it's by the leg of one of the children's tables. Describe to me what happened.
SUZANNE HALEY, BRIARWOOD SCHOOL TEACHER: Well, we were aware of the situation, the impending weather. It progressively got worse and the fastest time ever, it just seemed like it was so, so quick. We were taking our tornado precautions. We could hear it approaching.
It sounded like a jet, just low, coming closer and closer. We crowded the children under desks and me and a fellow teacher, you know, put ourselves in front of the desks that the children were under and --
MORGAN: We're actually looking as you speak at a picture that you've supplied to us. A remarkable picture. It's all the children in the classroom with you and they're all in -- I guess the kind of crash position, bracing themselves for the tornado --
HALEY: Yes, interior wall.
MORGAN: Right. They have been trained to do this before?
HALEY: Yes. This would be our tornado precaution. We're on an interior wall. I was actually in the next class over where we had put, you know, a fewer amount of kids, we put desks up against the wall and got them underneath. And, like I said, the fellow teacher and I put ourselves in front of the desks to avoid exposure to debris that might hit the children.
MORGAN: And, you had two children of your own.
HALEY: Yes. I save them both.
MORGAN: Your two daughters, Miranda and Ashley. Were they in the same room as you?
HALEY: Yes, they were under the desks. And -- You know, it just, it got louder and louder and we just continued to pray that -- you know, it would pass, it would pass, and it didn't. And, then the roof went and it just -- the wall came in and landed right on top of us, on the desks.
Initially, I thought something, you know, large and heavy was just on my leg and I couldn't move, none of us could move. We finally got to, you know, roll around and kind of get out of the way and I asked my daughter if she could see if that was something that was just on my leg, that could be lifted, that I could pull out. And, she realized and screamed that it was in my leg. And amazingly by the grace of God, I kept it together.
And, you know, if it shocked, it shocked, but I couldn't go into hysterics in front of my children, in front of the other students. I had to be calm for them and you know, not even until after surgery when I came out of anesthesia, did I lose it? But, regardless, I'm so blessed, that it could have been so worse. It did not went underneath the bone. A clean wound that's going to heal. It's going to be about three months of recovery and therapy.
And, unfortunately, I didn't have a choice in which hospital I got taken to in the back of a pickup. And, my insurance may not be covering this hospital because it's not under this plan. So, they've actually set up a relief fund for me to help me out as I'm a single mother, budget tight, you know with approaching recovery and therapy and expenses included in getting through this whole ordeal on top of finding my vehicle in the pond next to the school.
HALEY: It's definitely going to be a great help with this fund that's set up.
MORGAN: Well, we're going to -- we are going to -- Suzanne, we're going to put the details of the fund on our website and I'll tweet about that as well, because we are going to make sure that you get help. Because you showed outstanding heroism like many teachers have done clearly to save many children's lives. It must have been a moment where you thought, we're all going to die here and you --
HALEY: I didn't know what to think. I just continued to pray and like Julie said, it's nothing anybody wouldn't do. These children, we see their smiles, their tears, every day in and out, and we love them. And, they're our babies just as much as my babies were in the room with me, you know. We wanted each and every one of them to be safe.
MORGAN: I'm looking at the picture again of this extraordinary injury you sustained. I'm so grateful that you're going to be OK and make a full recovery. What have you done with that leg, which has gone inside your leg, the table leg? Did you keep it?
HALEY: Yes. They -- At the moment, they were putting me under for surgery, I heard the word hacksaw and I just thought OK, it's time to go to sleep. But, they did bag it up and it's my souvenir, my trophy. My daughters play softball, they got trophies. Now, I got a trophy, too.
MORGAN: Well, you showed amazing bravery and your spirit about all this is quite remarkable, and I can only thank you as I thanked Julie earlier. You teachers did an amazing job. If I had kids at that school, I would be so proud of what you did and so grateful. So, thank you very much. HALEY: Oh, thank you. It was my pleasure for all these kids and we are so blessed that there was such minimal injuries.
MORGAN: Yes. A real miracle.
HALEY: We can't all say that in the city. It's hard, hard time to go through.
MORGAN: Very, very hard . Suzanne Haley, thank you very much, indeed.
HALEY: Thank you.
MORGAN: Another hero teacher. Coming up, the doctor who was working in the E.R. when the twister struck.
MORGAN: The Moore Medical Center is in ruins tonight after a direct hit from the tornado. The hospital wasn't just housing patients. Up to 300 people had gone there believing it was safer than being at home. Joining me now is Dr. Stephanie Barnhart, who was in the emergency room when the twister struck. Doctor, thank you so much for joining me. It must have been quite a night for you last night. Tell me about it.
DR. STEPHANIE BARNHART, ER PHYSICIAN, MOORE MEDICAL CENTER: Well, I don't think it all hit me until this morning, actually. I was still on go mode, I guess you could say I was -- After the events, we were set up a triage area and took care of patients as they came to see us, then we had lost power at my house so we were trying to figure out what to do, and I think i did just crash and didn't really think about it until this morning. And, that was when, you know, kind of the events of everything that happened was really heavy and on my heart, and it was -- wow, I couldn't believe it.
MORGAN: How much warning did you get to get out of there?
DR. BARNHART: Well, we actually stayed in the hospital, but we had -- I think the hospital did a great job of giving us some warnings. They sent out three different alerts to us, overhead paging. I would guess maybe 30, 45 minutes from the time that we first knew that there was a tornado watch, which we hear that often here in Oklahoma.
So, we don't really know what to think of that one. But, we got the warning and then we actually got a tornado alert, which tells us that I've never heard that before. So, I knew that there was something coming our way.
MORGAN: What was it like to actually experience the full blast of this tornado?
DR. BARNHART: It was -- I've lived here in Oklahoma all my life, and I've seen them, I've been around them. But, I've never actually been through one. And, it is indescribable. I mean, you can hear the roar of the sound as it's coming toward you.
It was so loud, and just the pressure that you felt, like -- you know, that your ears were popping and just the pressure around you. You were shaking and trembling, and it was unbelievable.
MORGAN: When you woke up today and saw the scale of what had gone on, do you feel as I do that it's bordering on miraculous that the death toll at the moment is at 24 and not much, much higher?
DR. BARNHART: Yes. It is very miraculous and I give all the credit to Jesus and God. I know that he was protecting us. We were -- the area that we were in as far as the E.R. patients, we had some inpatients in a particular area of the hospital that was unscathed. There was one ceiling tile that was down and that was it.
So, we didn't even realize until I stepped out of those double doors that I even knew that something to that magnitude had happened. And, I don't think I even still got it until we were outside of the hospital and saw across the street, you know, the bowling alley and different areas that were just devastated. It was amazing.
MORGAN: Pretty extraordinary night. Well, doctor, you did an amazing job, Dr. Stephanie Barnhart and all your staff. Congratulations and thank you on behalf of everyone that you helped last night.
DR. BARNHART: Thank you. I don't deserve any of the credit. I just did my job.
MORGAN: Well, you do, but I appreciate that. Thank you very much.
DR. BARNHART: Thanks. Thank you.
MORGAN: Another hero of the night. You heard my interview with Cassandra Jenkins earlier and her missing grandparents. They are Thomas and Claudia Foutch. They were last seen driving a 2008 red extended cab Ford F-150 pickup with the license number 998-AOP. I'll say that again, 998-AOP.
If you have any information at all, please call the Red Cross or tweet me, @piersmorgan. Very keen to try and track them down. Coming, next. Some of the most extraordinary images to come out of the Oklahoma twister by the man who took them.
MORGAN: There have been some staggering images from the disaster zone in Oklahoma. The damage is so widespread and so graphic. This picture may be the most notable so far. Briarwood neighbors rescuing students. Joining me now on the phone is a man who took that picture, Paul Hellstern. He is a stock photographer with the Oklahoman.
Welcome to you, Paul. What extraordinary pictures that you took. This one in particular that I am looking at now has been used on many front pages of newspaper all over the world. You were there within five minutes. What was going through your mind as you raced to the scene and then realized what have happened?
PAUL HELLSTERN, OKLAHOMAN PHOTOGRAPHER: Well, of course, an adrenaline rush with the situation that was happening. I just got through photographing the tornado itself and then turned up north and was trying to intercept the damage, cutting through an estuary when I came across the school.
Just at the moment, the teachers were trying to bring all the kids out of the school, those that could get out, anyway. And, a lot of the crying, a lot of emotions, children crying for their parents, of course, their moms. Very emotional time.
MORGAN: I'm noticing you were doing a job and doing it extremely well. But, from a human perspective, you must have been thinking what on earth has happened to this area that I know so well?
HELLSTERN: Yes, exactly. Well, I had also covered the -- practically, the same area 14 years earlier with the May 3rd tornado of 1999. So, I have seen devastation very similar to that and practically in the same area.
But, still, every time you see any kind of tornado damage, it is shocking. And, especially to be on it that quickly and when it's in the very height of its emotion. It's very emotional.
MORGAN: And, Paul, you said that the other one in 1999, we've lost many people in this. But would you say this is a bigger devastation than the one from 1999? I know one of the local papers, it may have been yours that said that, but do you believe that to be the case?
HELLSTERN: It's really difficult to tell from myself, having seen them both from the air and from the ground. This one is close, but I don't know, myself, if it is as strong or if it's quite as much damage. Now, the facts and figures will tell.
MORGAN: They were certainly -- I mean both awesomely powerful tornadoes.
MORGAN: Paul, you took some remarkable pictures. I thank you for joining me. Thank you very much, Paul.
HELLSTERN: Thank you.
MORGAN: And, we'll be right back.
MORGAN: That's all for us for now. I'll be back live at midnight with more from the tornado zone. CNN's coverage of the Oklahoma tornado continues now with Anderson Cooper, who is live in Moore.