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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Mass Destruction In Moore, Oklahoma; Severe Weather Threat Still Looms; Death Toll Rising

Aired May 21, 2013 - 07:30   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- is that a vortecy (ph) on the side?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a whole roof that just came off. No, not yet, my gosh.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look, it's already starting to -- listen, my God. Car is coming, car's coming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please keep these people safe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please dear God, listen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The storm was simply devastating. We're just now beginning to understand this scope of how many lives were lost and how much damage was done, this was a bad one, guys, how close were you to it and describe what it was like to see it as it was happening.

KEVIN ROLFS, STORM CHASER: As it was crossing north of the school we were sitting at, which was South Moore High School. It was as close to a half to a quarter-mile away from us and the tornado itself was just massive and you could hear -- the roar was deafening, we could basically feel the ground shaking and reverberations off of the power of the tornado.

JIMMY STORY, STORM CHASER: Yes. I've never seen anything like this.

BERMAN: We now know we're being told it was an EF-4, which means there are wind speeds up to 200 miles per hour, maybe greater than that. What does that feel like to be as close as you were?

STORY: It's surreal and words can't describe it this was, in essence, it was my first tornado that I've been on like this. I was up in the Kansas ones on Saturday, nothing in comparison to it.

BERMAN: Now I've been driving over the last four or five hours in the dark. You can't digest the scope of the devastation, and I was seeing it in the dark. You guys also took footage right after the storm, some of the damage that was done here. I want to look at that briefly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Houses are completely leveled.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Houses are leveled. This doesn't look like it was a development.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looks, no. This -- my God, guys.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: That's got to tear at you when you see stuff like that.

ROLFS: Yes, it was, it was tearing at us the whole time. As soon as we saw the tornado move to the west side of Moore, our hearts just sank because we knew exactly what was happening. We've been on several other storms of this caliber, the Joplin tornado back in 2011. We filmed that going into town as well.

Similar to this one as it was, it crossed into town in a similar fashion as it dropped on the west side of town. It just -- you know, people are hurting and there's devastation occurring and you're powerless to do anything about it except just watch and do what you can afterwards to help.

BERMAN: You guys are from here, nearby at least. Is everyone in your family OK, everyone doing OK?

STORY: Yes, my family is down in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

ROLFS: Yes. My family, they're up in Northeast Oklahoma and they are doing good.

BERMAN: Well, I'm happy to hear that. I was asking you about the weather here. We've seen lightning flashes up in the sky and dark ominous clouds. Our meteorologist, Indra Petersons' note, that a wide swath of this part of the country could see some dangerous situations today. You think this isn't necessarily threatening based on your experience?

ROLFS: Not in the Moore area itself. The threat here is greatly diminished and it's moved south. More into the Texas, Dallas metro area, in fact and Jimmy here, one of our other team members, of base hunters will be chasing down there as well and seeing hopefully nothing bad happens. But it's possible again today down there.

BERMAN: Once you've seen something like this you said you were at Joplin. This feels very much like it could be the scope of Joplin. Is it hard for you guys to go out the next time?

STORY: You know, it is. You know, I'm a little bit afraid of what we may see today, going south. Being that I lived down there, I need to head that way, anyway and be with family. I -- my job is with these guys is to chase these and get good footage and alert the public.

BERMAN: The public needs to be safe, needs to take precautions. When there are warnings, they need to heed them. So guys, thank you, Jimmy Story and Kevin Rolfs, thank you so much for being with us. I really appreciate it.

These guys are talking about the fact that they were looking at people piece their lives back together again immediately after the devastation hit. The first responders had been out from the moment after this storm hit and they are picking through the rubble this morning. They are listening for any signs of life.

When we come back we're going to learn more about this recovery operation, could still be a rescue operation. People don't want to give up hope just yet. Stay with us, our continuing live coverage of the devastating tornado in Oklahoma continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to our coverage of the aftermath of the devastating tornado in Moore, Oklahoma. People here in this town, the city of 55,000, are waking up and picking through the pieces this morning as the search continues, hopefully, a rescue effort probably a recovery effort at this point.

Let me give awe sense of the numbers we're looking at here, 51 people killed. That number we expect will go up, 20 of those killed that we already know, children and 145 people injured, again, that number will go up, maybe by a lot. And we're asking about a count for the number of homes and structures destroyed. They do not have that count yet.

I can tell you how we've driven through it over the last several hours here. I don't even know how they would begin to count. There were so many homes, so many structures destroyed, simply flattened in some cases by the power of the storm. It was an EF-4, which means there were wind speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour.

At one point this tornado was some two miles wide and it cut a path here through this area that was simply, simply devastating. I keep using that word here, but there is no other way to describe the damage that's been done here. You may see lightning flashing behind me.

You may see some dark, ominous storm clouds behind me although there's some blue sky, also. One thing everyone wants to know is, what will the weather hold today because the storm system is not done yet? Before we get a look at the weather ahead of us right now, I want to go to Pamela Brown, who is outside the Moore Medical Center here, a hospital that's been damaged so badly.

It gives you a sense of the struggle here because the hospital is the place you want to take people who have been injured in a storm like this. But this hospital nearly flattened. So let's go straight to Pamela. Hi, Pamela.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. That's right. The scene really tells the story of just the gravitude (ph), the depth of the damage from that massive tornado yesterday. In fact, right now, I'm right next to the hospital, John. This is a bowling ball, hard to believe, but this was once a bowling alley.

Take a look here, bowling balls scattered throughout here. There's carpet right here and then you look over here and anyone that's been bowling recognizes the chairs, the computers and the hard to tell where the steel beams are, those are the bowling alleys, that shows the scope of how powerful that tornado was.

Now I'll have my photographer pan over here to show the hospital that you alluded to. Moore Medical Center, we have learned that all the patients and staff are accounted for. It's hard to believe when you look at how the hospital was obliterated. We've learned that the patients and staff were actually evacuated after the hospital sustained damage.

Amazingly and the parking lot here you see a FedEx truck with the lights still on. You see several cars that are damaged here in the parking lot. Crews right now are just here clearing up. They've been here throughout the morning overnight, working very hard, not only here, but at sites throughout Moore, Oklahoma.

Earlier today, we were at the Plaza Towers Elementary School and there were just a couple of walls standing there. Rescuers are there as we speak right now, sifting through the rubble there, trying to find any more survivors -- John.

BERMAN: Pamela, I can't believe the picture of the bowling ball, the image, seeing the bowling ball on the ground there. When you look at the buildings, I was driving through, I saw some people going through their homes, trying to see if there was anything left. Are you seeing the signs of owners? Any sign of the people who normally work in these buildings? Are they arriving as the sun comes up in Moore this morning?

BROWN: No. It feels like a ghost town here, John. We were driving through this morning. I saw one guy walking down the street with just a blank stare in his eyes. He just looked shell shocked and that's the feeling when you look around here. The houses I saw, they were pitch black.

It's as though you know people had either evacuated the area, but it just really feels desolate around here. People just evacuating town and just trying to cope with what happened this is unbelievable. As we've been talking about all morning, John, this town is no stranger to tornadoes.

But I think what happened here yesterday, is something that will never be forgotten and will go down in history books as one of the, if not the worst tornado that's ever swept through this area.

BERMAN: No doubt about that. They're comparing it to storms that have happened before. There was a storm, a tornado in 1999. It was actually an EF-5, some of the highest wind speeds ever reported. It destroyed the church that I'm standing in front of right now.

This church behind me was simply flattened. It has since been rebuilt and Pamela, I suppose, that's ray of hope here. This town, this area does know how to rebuild. But after the devastation like this it will not be easy in that battle has only just begun. Pamela Brown, thank you so much. I said Indra because I want to go now to Indra Petersons at the Severe Weather Center for us in Atlanta. Indra, let's get a sense of what is in store for today.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know, I wish I had better news, John. We continue to look outside. You were talking about in the distance. You continue to see a lot of storm clouds. Well, we've seen a lot of lightning. Notice at the radar, all instability that's still out there.

We did have a severe norm warning with winds anywhere from 50 to 70 miles per hour in the area. We're talking about clean-up and rescue. We're still talking about the severe weather in the area, a lot of that wind to throwing around the debris already on the ground.

You can only imagine how tough it really is out there. Severe thunderstorm watch in effect really just east of the area, but as we continue to go throughout the day, that moderate risk where we have the enhanced risk will start to sag a little farther south. That's in line with what we're currently seeing.

We're starting to see a couple of the cells kind of move a little bit farther to the south. Speaking of this risk, I know we've seen so much damage and it's so tough out there, but I want people to stay focused on the fact that the risk is not gone by any means.

We're talking 50 million of you today still under the threat for that severe weather. What are we talking about? We're talking Milwaukee, Detroit, all the way down through St. Louis, even through Dallas, where's the moderate risk?

Well, yesterday, we saw it through Oklahoma and pushing in towards Missouri. Remember I said that has pushed farther south. Today you can see the moderate risk area moving through Dallas and Shreveport, Louisiana.

But again, it doesn't matter where you are in this huge swath. Anything can happen as you can see the last several days. The conditions are so ripe out there and it's only a matter of minutes that can make a difference here between life and death.

BERMAN: All right, Indra Petersons, thank you so much. The message there clearly from Indra, be on the lookout, a large part of this country still under the threats of the storms even for this area that's been hit so hard already.

One of the reasons that there were survivors here is that they heed the warnings that did come, 16 minutes, in some cases, which was enough for some people to find safety. Others did not, but there were reunions of pictures families seeing each other again that will simply tear at your heart. When we come back we'll show you some of the uplifting images of hope and the families finding each other and moving on.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BERMAN: Welcome back to our live coverage of the aftermath of this devastating tornado in Moore, Oklahoma. I'm John Berman along with Chris Cuomo here. And this morning residents here are waking up to a recovery effort, a rescue effort, still very much under way.

The Plaza Towers School is the site where so many hopes still rest right now as they dig through the rubble by hand, trying to find possibly any survivors that may still be there or figure out exactly if there are any bodies left there as well.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: We understand the situation at this school has become a little complicated. It has a basement. Lives were lost in the basement from flooding, but in doing search and recovery there, rescue recovery, a lot of that is semantics. It's just language. They're looking for people.

They want to find them alive of course. Don't let yourself get caught up in terms. What you should pay attention to is, the problem is that, because there is that carve out, weight on top of it. You have to be carefully how you distribute it as you go through this search.

Because you can have it fall down into the basement and cause potential injury to people who may still be alive there. So it's complicating it to making it go slowly, but they say they are making progress.

BERMAN: There were survivors at that school and we saw families reunited at that school. But there was another school that was also affected by this storm, the Briarwood School. We want to show you some footage from that, some video, some pictures that will really tug at your heart.

These are families, teachers, kids, finding each other again, after these terrifying, terrifying moments, the storm that was so beautiful, so devastating. These are families together once again. Let's watch.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where is she, my God!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's out? She's OK. OK.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Stay with me. Stay with me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All the fifth graders right here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Demarcus, step over the wire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fifth grade.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fifth graders, fifth graders.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was so brave. He was so brave. He was so brave. He was so brave.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BERMAN: Look at those hugs. Look at those hugs. Again, you simply cannot hug tightly enough in some situations and I want to point out, such a chaotic situation in some ways. There is so much turmoil here, but there were also so much order there. Those people all behaving, all relatively calm, respecting each other's space and really coming together as a community to try to overcome this incredibly difficult moment.

CUOMO: You have to just imagine what matters most to everybody is their kids, right? If you are blessed with having children and to not know, the cell phone is not working, and your home is destroyed. You live here. You understand what tornadoes can do. You see that school. Briarwood wasn't that -- are you seeing footage from Briarwood School.

Not a lot of physical damage there. You know what happened with Plaza Towers and your kid is in there and just the ability -- we kept showing this image it will rotate through. The mother bloodies, father is bloodied, but they have smiles on their face because they have their kids. This is the picture we're talking about.

BERMAN: Look at that woman right there and that hug right there. One of the things that have to be most difficult is the unknown and still so much unknown. How many people still may be buried, may be trapped. Since the storm hit, we understand that 101 people have been pulled from this rubble including overnight.

So no one wants to give up hope as either continued. They had us move locations earlier because the TV generators were making so much noise. They want to hear people who may be trapped in the rubble. It's very important to them. This gives you a sense of how they are still holding out some hope.

CUOMO: That's 100 people done in an official capacity that could be communicated, where they could get out a call, where radios are working. These communities do it for themselves here as well. People are not going to the hospitals, not going to get help, even though they are injured because they are staying to take care of their own, to help find people.

And you will start to hear stories coming out of these streets where they were once thriving community of how they stayed there, and pulled each other out. Moore, Oklahoma, happened in 2003, and '99. It will happen again right now, another interesting dynamic, all weather- generated, right. We know it too well here in the ground here.

The temperature hre feels like it dropped 10 degrees in the last 10 minutes. As you can see, see how it's brightening up. Over here where you can't see, a massive front that is carrying this weather with it and warm air with it as well and we're told by storm chasers and meteorologists that the threat here is gone.

That front moving, what energy it could pick up, what it could mean for tornadic activity, that's unknown. There's is still threat in areas moving toward Texas. Those areas will have to be on alert. Here, about looking through the rubble and finding out who is still there.

BERMAN: The storm chasers, it's their job to go after these things. They are heading south. They are worried that more storms could hit south of here. That's where they will be watching. A lot more information we want to get here from Moore, Oklahoma. And we'll hear from people here on CNN, right in the middle of the effort, the rescue, recovery effort, the police chief, fire chief. We'll hear from them both, and also others as coverage in Moore, Oklahoma, of the devastating tornado continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COUMO: Here we are in Moore, Oklahoma, Chris Cuomo with John Berman. The morning after, the weather is shifting. There are bright skies over us as the front moves over down toward Texas, the front that brought the horrible tornado here. Tornadoes are measured in terms of the amount of damage they do unlike hurricanes where they measure the strength of the actual storm. The damage here has been told, rumored to have been the worst they have ever seen.