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Stay Alert for Latent Injuries; Interview with Moore Fire Chief Gary Bird; Remembering Joplin Two Years On; Oklahoma Recovery Efforts Underway

Aired May 22, 2013 - 08:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to tornado-ravaged Moore, Oklahoma, everyone. John Berman here along with Chris Cuomo. Some 56,000 people who call this city home are trying to get back on their feet this morning.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Less than 48 hours after a deadly twister packing 200 mile an hour winds hit this community, rescue operations here, now, we're going into recovery, the transition, the time. We learned this afternoon that Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, she's going to travel to Moore. She's going to meet with state and local officials. She wants to ensure that first responders are receiving the help they need as well as the community.

BERMAN: The National Weather Service now confirming that this 1.3 mile-wide tornado that really blew through here Monday afternoon, killing 24 people, it was an EF-5 tornado. Doesn't get higher than that. Damaged 2,400 homes; 10,000 people directly impacted by the storm. We expect the insurance claims to top $1 billion.

CUOMO: Take a look at this video of the beast being born. You can see a funnel cloud forming just seven minute after a tornado warning issued by the National Weather Service on Monday. Within moments, literally, it was a ten-minute window, that it went from just high winds to -- growing into what's known as a grinder. Minutes later, it was carving up Moore, Oklahoma.

BERMAN: Moore Medical Center took a direct hit from the storm. You've seen some of the amazing pictures of the twisted metal there, but amazingly hundreds of people inside -- workers, patients, and their families -- they got to safety without injury.

CUOMO: And you take a look at the hospital, it's virtually destroyed. We have with us Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He went back there with the head of the hospital's E.R. Take a listen to the interview.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You were the E.R. doc on call in a hospital that was in the middle of one of the biggest tornadoes in U.S. history. And everybody did well inside your hospital. How are you feeling about that today? DR. STEPHANIE BARNHART, ER DOCTOR, OU MEDICAL CENTER: I don't think it's hit me, really. And I just can't feel like I can take any credit for that. Like I said, I was just doing my job and knew what I it to do but I can't even imagine. I can't -- it's very emotional because I'm like, wow, everybody was -- did get out. Yes, words can't even describe how I feel and I do keep getting a lot of thank yous.


CUOMO: All right, Sanjay's joining us now. Incredible how humble she is in the face of this.

GUPTA: She's 34 years old. You know, I expected this sort of wizened old trauma surgeon when I heard about this person who essentially got all these people to safety. Nobody had a scratch on them, as you guys probably heard, in that hospital. Remarkable when you look at those images.

This is the second time a hospital has sort of been in the path of the storm. In Joplin, you heard about it ad here again. So they set up a triage area just outside in the parking lot to take care of people after (INAUDIBLE).

BERMAN: What kind of injuries are we talking about here?

GUPTA: Well, you're talking about spinal cord injuries, impalements. You look around here, anything could potentially be a source of essentially shrapnel. When something like this happens, you get sort of the primary wave from the force of the wind itself, that's a primary wave. Secondary wave is everything that's sort of blowing around. And there's a tertiary wave where people are actually floating themselves and sometimes even being pushed against immovable objects.

So those are the sorts of things here, the spinal cord injuries, the impalements and crush (ph) injuries. One thing that did not happen that much, I mean, if you look historically, you worry about head and brain injuries. You didn't see that many this time. In the hospital, for example, when they got into those inner corridors, they took mattresses and just put them over people's heads to prevent that very thing from happening.

CUOMO: How big a risk is not what you see on the outside, but what you feel on the inside after something like this?

GUPTA: It can be significant. This may be surprising to some people but sometimes because of the force of the storm, you can actually get pressure changes that can actually cause, for example, perforations in your intestines.

CUOMO: Oh, so we're not even talking about PTSD. You're saying that there are just latent injuries.

GUPTA: Without obvious external signs of injury, you could have that. And that could show up a couple of days later, so this is always going to be something that doctors are going to be a little bit on the lookout for, if somebody comes in delayed as a result of physical injuries.

But certainly the PTSD, the mental injuries, a lot of it you would expect. Although with children, it's interesting, Chris. They say that sometimes in the first few days, the kids seem absolutely fine. There's just no problems. But it can show up a few days later. So not to let your guard down on that.

BERMAN: And I'm worried about the kids who come home and they see houses like this, their homes, destroyed. The only house they ever lived in.

GUPTA: Yes, there's no question that sense of permanence is just so much different when you're a child versus, you know, an adult and you have a larger context. So, I mean, assuring kids that they're going to have a place to live, they're going to get some sense of normalcy again is tough, obviously. The school, their home, everything's been affected, but that seems to be the key.

CUOMO: It's also important, though, the message you've given to families out there is pay attention to kids in the week or two after this just to see what may not resolve itself.

GUPTA: Yes, just because they seem in these first few days that there's not a problem, again, not to let the guard down. Because -- and it can show up in different ways, poor sleeping, poor eating, acting out in certain ways. And also, I think you guys have talked about this, but half of tornado-related injuries occur in the first few days after the storm.

CUOMO: Going around the cleanup, this debris field.

GUPTA: Yes, I heard -- you guys probably heard, they had a need for tetanus shots, for example, at one of the shelters. Tetanus shots usually last anywhere from seven to ten years. A lot of people stepping on nails, that's going to be important. Little things like that.

BERMAN: We're talking about the search and recovery effort here. It is massive, and that was - something really interesting just happened.

The fire chief here in the city Moore, Chief Gar Bird is joining us. He actually just stepped on a wooden plank that a nail was in it as Sanjay was saying that one of the dangers here is this debris. Why don't you step right in, sir, next to Sanjay?

Thank you so much for being us with. We appreciate it here. Your teams have been sifting through this town again and again and again. Why don't you give us an update on the status here? We've been saying overnight it's shifted from a rescue operation to a recovery operation.

GARY BIRD, CITY OF MOORE FIRE CHIEF: Yes, and when I got back to the command post this morning, I left late last night, they had told me we are through with the school. We have finished at the school, and numbers have not changed, which makes us very happy. And so we have one more area that we're kind of concentrating on. By mid-afternoon, early evening, we hope to be releasing lots of people. We're going to be pretty well through with our search and rescue efforts.

CUOMO: Something that's difficult to talk about but important in understanding the situation, we know that kids were lost in the school.

BIRD: Yes, sir.

CUOMO: We hear information that there was a basement, that that's where the kids were, that there was flooding. Are there circumstances that you can explain to help make sense?

BIRD: Everything that I've been told is they were in a classroom. They were not in the basement. I cannot confirm that, but from everything I've been told, I'm pretty safe in saying that.

CUOMO: But you understand why. It's not morbid interest; it's concern.

BIRD: No, they were in a classroom and it had nothing to do with flooding, from what I understand.

CUOMO: An important distinction. Also the idea of the missing. A lot of it's communication-based, we know that, that people can't get cell phones or lost their cell phones. Do you know anything about missing?

BIRD: Last might when I left, we only had one, pardon me, two people that I knew of that we hadn't been able to confirm really for sure where they were at. And then again, I think it's people that saw the tornado coming, got in the car, left, hasn't been able to make phone communications or -

And a lot of people get scared in these situations and they leave and think we're safe. Contact your family. Let them know you are safe because you've got everyone else worried to death about where you are. Were you home? Did you leave? We don't know where you are. Please contact your family if you haven't and let them know.

BERMAN: We've been talking about the lives lost here - 24, certainly too many. Nine kids, certainly too many. But when you walk through this damage, it's shocking that there weren't more lives lost. You were talking about those, Sanjay, too, so many injuries we've seen not as bad in some cases as you might expect. Why is that, do you think?

BIRD: Moore is pretty resilient and, as you know, we've had several tornadoes through this area. And our citizens pay a lot of the attention to the weather. I think they are used to this. They pay a lot of attention to the weather and they heed the warnings. And, you know, you have the damage, you have the things still happening and you can prepare a lot, but if you can't get in a cellar, get underground, you're going to have injuries, you're going to have lives lost possibly, depending on the stage of the tornado and everything.

And one is too many. Twenty-four is way, way too many. But thank god it wasn't the 51 or the 91 we'd heard earlier. CUOMO: Timing. I was up in the air yesterday taking a look at what the debris field is like, whether it's 13 miles, 20 miles, whatever way you want to calculate it. Whether it's two blocks, whatever numbers you want to use. What kind of time does it take to go through and say with confidence, OK, we've been everywhere, we know who is places, we know the situation is? How long does it take, to be realistic?

BIRD: Well, you know when the tornado started and you probably know somewhat about the time we got out in the field later that afternoon. I can pretty well assure you by late this evening, early this evening matter of fact, we will be done.

BERMAN: We've seen the dogs come through here twice. This neighborhood right now, the dogs have gone house to house, not just once but twice.

BIRD: Well, that's what everyone says, well, they've been through here once. But we want to do our due diligence. Our citizens in this community deserve the very best we can give them. And there's people all over Oklahoma, all over the nation, that have come in to help. And we want to be sure they understand we've done our very best for them and we've checked every structure, every house, every business, every vehicle to our utmost best to be sure that there is nobody left anywhere unaccounted for that we could have found.

BERMAN: That's great news, sir, and we certainly hope that's the case. Chief Gary Bird, thank you so much for joining us right now. We wish you the best of luck. We know you've been working around the clock and you still more work to do here, so we appreciate it.

BIRD: Thank you for all your coverage.

CUOMO: Before you leave, we need to you sign a release and we have to have Dr. Sanjay Gupta check out your foot because I saw you take that nail in the foot. Chief, thank you so much.

BIRD: Thank you.

CUOMO: We're going to take a break now. When we come back, it was one of the most catastrophic tornadoes in American history. Two years later, Joplin, Missouri, is what we're talking about and we're remembering the loss as the witnesses have seen all too familiar in neighboring Oklahoma. Now Joplin residents are lending a helping hand.

You're watching a special edition of STARTING POINT.


BERMAN: Oklahoma, barely begun the recovery effort after this devastating and deadly tornado tore through here. You know, perhaps no one knows better the suffering here in Moore than the people in Joplin, Missouri. It's eerie: today marks exactly two years to the day since the tornado there killed 161 people.

Miguel Marquez now on this somber anniversary. Good morning, Miguel.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning there, John. It was 5:41 p.m. two years ago when this Category 5 storm ripped through here, and everywhere you look in this city, you can still see signs of it. If you look off to the distance there, you can see the trees, still bare. Everywhere you look in the town, you can see signs of this tornado. This parking lot that you're looking at were actually medical buildings that were once here.

This storm ripped a 22-mile hole right through the heart of this city. It killed 161 people, 1,100 injured. Everywhere you look here. This was a sign that once stood here; that's now gone. And right across the street here, that was the hospital, St. John's, a nine-story building completely gone. They're now rebuilding it. It will not be finished until 2015.

Of the 75,000 homes that were damaged or destroyed here, about 84 percent of them are back up and running; 90 percent of the businesses are either back up and running or have a plan to get back up and running.

The big thing here, though, you know Moore is 50,000 people, but the same number of people here, there are 225 miles apart, right down the I-44 Corridor, the -- the population here in Joplin has dropped by about six percent. That's something they want to get back. This storm caused about $3 billion in damages and they are pouring billions into it in order to rebuild the town, have a rebirth.

Today is supposed to be a celebration. But because of what's happened right down the street, it is not -- John.

BERMAN: Miguel. It's so interesting to see the sun rising this morning over in Joplin, Missouri, that town, that city, that has rebuilt, even though there are the indelible memories. Miguel Marquez thank so much for joining us this morning.

And joining us now is Joplin's Mayor Melodee Colber-Kean she will be attending anniversary events there today. Again it's been two years to the day since that terrible tornado ripped through there. Mayor, thank you so much for joining us right now. Let me ask you first, as you look at these pictures --



BERMAN: -- of what's happening where I'm standing in Moore, Oklahoma. As you look at the images here, what kind of memories does that evoke for you?

COLBER-KEAN: It's an eerie deja vu. That's the first thing that when we see the destruction, it immediately brings back to mind our own tornado that we experienced two years ago.

BERMAN: This was an EF-5 tornado that struck here, you know, a lot of the -- the same strength that hit Joplin. Based on your experience there, what can you tell the people of Moore about what they have ahead of them in the coming days, weeks, and months?

COLBER-KEAN: If we can share anything with them, we would like to share that there is hope, as they can see with our two years that where we are now, we have become a long way, a very long way and it's a long struggle. It is a road that you don't want to tread, but now that you have to be on it, make sure -- make sure that you involve your citizens in every line of communication that you do. Because they are going to be wondering what's going on, how is the develop going, so we can stress to definitely make sure of that.

Document everything, anything and everything that you sign, document, because that will come back on you later if you don't have that. And one thing that we would really like to share is hope. There is going to be hope. There is hope because devastation doesn't last, but determination does.

BERMAN: If you've proven anything, it's that the hope does persevere in this. Mayor, give us an update. It's been two years to the day since the tornado hit your town. Where do things stand right now? What's the status of the recovery effort?

COLBERT-KEAN: Right now, we are looking at 85 percent to 90 percent of -- with our housing coming back. We either have people that have been permitted to rebuild or they have rebuilt. We're also looking at about 90 percent of the businesses that have been back or are permitted to be rebuilt. The morale of Joplin is high.

Although today our hearts are heavy with Moore, Oklahoma because it's a shared connection that we both have right now. There is different things you can be compared to, but disasters is not one of them. Each one is different in its own right.

However, we want them to know that we have a shared connection right now and our heart goes out to them and we did send the emergency responders down there to try to see if we could be of assistance to them to give back just as so many gave back to our city.

BERMAN: That's right you sent more than just a message of hope. You actually sent volunteers down here to help out and I know it is appreciated. Melodee Colbert-Kean the Mayor of Joplin, Missouri, thank you so much for being with us and our thoughts are still with you as you celebrate this anniversary two years to the day since that terrible tornado struck your town. We appreciate it.

COLBERT-KEAN: Thank you very much.

BERMAN: Ahead here on STARTING POINT live from Moore, Oklahoma, many of Oklahoma survivors they owe their lives to the first responders on the scene. We're going to take a look at what it took to reach those people caught in the path of this storm.


BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT everyone here.

The Mayor of Moore, Oklahoma says the death toll at 24, he believes it will stay at 24. And local personnel are now refocusing their efforts on the recovery process.

Tony McCarty is a paramedic in field operations supervisor with Oklahoma Emergency Medical Services Authority or EMSA, he was one of the first responders on the scene on Monday. And tell me what happened, you get the warning, what did you see when you first arrived on the scene after the tornado passed through?

TONY MCCARTY, FIELD OPERATIONS SUPERVISOR, EMSA: Actually we were on scene as the tornado was coming through. That's how close we tried to get. So we do have an immediate response. What we did see, though, was -- what you see behind is this total devastation. And the area that we were at where I stopped at 11th and South, Santa Fe actually this -- it was more leveled than this. There was nothing but piles of debris. No walls.

BERMAN: And the efforts of you and your team is so important in that first 20 hours there were some 100 people pulled from the rubble. That's a lot of lives saved.

MCCARTY: Yes, between 2:00 and midnight, in that ten-hour period, we had 95 emergency calls; between 2:00 and 5:00, we had 69. And we transported 68 out of that -- out of that whole thing; 92 or pardon me 32 of those could have been considered life threatening. So you can tell about the time it hit and just from our by numbers that we gathered off our data.

BERMAN: There are still some efforts still going on. Now they are calling it a recovery operation. You have colleagues right now I assume still at the Plaza Towers Elementary School. Is there any belief that there is still anyone there who might be trapped in the rubble?

MCCARTY: There may not be very much belief, but the hope is always high. There are -- that's one thing that we've learned over the years and out of our various tragedies between the Murray building bombing, the tornado of 1999 and now this one. We never give up hope until we're absolutely positive. So we'll stay on scene. We'll be here for days or for weeks, if that's what it takes. But we will make sure that we account for everybody.

BERMAN: And how will the process change for you and your teams over the next several days?

MCCARTY: What we do now, is we've scaled back our operations as an Emergency Medical Service and really are here -- we -- we only have one or two ambulances at each side to where the recovery process is actually ongoing. And there are several reasons, in case a responder gets hurt we're there immediately to help them, or if they do miraculously find somebody we're there and we can treat them, and we can transport them immediately.

BERMAN: You're always ready for a miracle to be sure. Being surrounded by this, when I get here and see this kind of thing, it's simply overwhelming. It's part of your job, but it still has to affect you. I mean what is it -- what's the hardest part for you, seeing this devastation? MCCARTY: The hardest part is trying to figure out where exactly or how -- where are we going to start? What -- how are we going to get this thing rolling? The hardest part is people is coming up to you with a child in their arms and maybe it's lifeless and you have to look at his parent and say, I'm sorry, there is nothing we can do. It's -- that's the hardest thing that any paramedic, any EMP doctor, nurse could ever did.

BERMAN: Can you feel it?

MCCARTY: We do. Most of us -- I've been here for 36 years. Some of the kids that I've got in here working and digging through this rubble, weren't alive when I started working here and yet they've got children the same age that they were trying to extricate, treat, and transport.

So you know, they are -- they are awesome in my eyes. The citizens that transported people selflessly in their own cars and treated people if they did now those are the true heroes.

BERMAN: Tony McCarty, you are one of these true heroes. You helped save lives and we all appreciate your efforts, thank you so much.

MCCARTY: Thank you sir.

BERMAN: The special edition of STARTING POINT, live from Moore, Oklahoma. We'll be back in just a moment.