'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Monday, May 20th, 2013
Read the transcript to the Monday show
\THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL
May 20, 2013
Guests: Tom Cole, Jill Ashtaugh, Glenn Lewis, Nigel Holderby, Kelly Wells
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST: Residents of Oklahoma awoke this morning to
warnings that conditions were ripe today for some very severe weather, but
nothing could have prepared them for what was to come.
RACHEL MADDOW, "TRMS" HOST: At least 51 killed so far.
CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST: Confirmed fatalities from the medical
examiner in Oklahoma.
MADDOW: That number expected to rise.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: We are covering a historic tornado in
REPORTER: We have a tornado watch issued.
MARTIN BASHIR, MSNBC ANCHOR: Tornado watch issued for several
WILLIAMS: This one has hit Moore, Oklahoma.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A huge swath of Tornado Alley.
TAMRON HALL, MSNBC ANCHOR: People bracing for more bad weather there.
WILLIAMS: This tornado was over one-mile wide at its base.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We see the clouds certainly getting dark.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The region remains on high alert.
WILLIAMS: This was an F5 tornado.
HAYES: Possibly the worst in recorded history.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This damage is quite extensive.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Total devastation here out here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hearing that I-35 is closed both directions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is traffic as far as the eyes can see.
UNIDENTFIED FEMALE: Be considerate. Stay out so emergency vehicles
can get through.
HAYES: At this moment, people are still trapped, and reports of
fatalities are beginning to mount.
O`DONNELL: This is MSNBC`s continuing coverage of the deadly and
destructive tornado that ripped through Moore, Oklahoma, today.
At least 51 deaths have been confirmed at this time. And now, that
night has fallen, recovery efforts have slowed.
This is a look at Plaza Towers Elementary School where authorities say
at least seven children have died. Our affiliate, KFOR, says they could
still uncover possibly 30 more bodies in the rubble of the school.
This evening, volunteers in the area walked through parking lots,
marking cars with orange spray paint to indicate whether bodies remained
The massive tornado is believed to be at least a mile wide, with winds
topping 200 miles per hour. The worst of the damage encompassed an area 30
We know President Obama has called Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin to
express his concern and promised federal aid. The governor spoke to the
media earlier tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. MARY FALLIN (R), OKLAHOMA: We`ll bring every single resource out
that we can. We had offers from other governors across the nation. Even
had a phone call from President Obama who sends his prayers for the state.
He`s also offered to do anything that he can to speed up federal assistance
and any type of red tape that might be in the way and offered resources,
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: We are hearing stories from those covering the storm and
those who survived it that are harrowing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: This is definitely some of the worst damage I`ve ever seen
in my life. Especially when this is your hometown, this is where you`re
from. It`s hard to see all of this, and these houses are just gone. I
mean, the foundation, there`s trees, there`s nothing. It is bare ground,
ripped the grass up even.
REPORTER: We talked to some that rode it out in a storm shelter
behind their house. They said it took three men to hold down the door to
the storm shelter because the tornado was that ferocious as it went over
REPORTER: Just in these neighborhoods, easily without really count
every home, we`ve got 500 homes, that I am circling over now, that are not
-- that are completely gone. I mean, I`m not saying damaged, I`m saying
gone. All there is, is foundations and driveways.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All I remember is hitting my head and trying to
get into the bathtub and it just -- I got picked up, threw down to the
ground. All I can remember after I hit my head, I was landing on the dog
and I could hear her whimpering. I just cannot believe we actually
survived this thing.
I feel like I`m in a dream. That`s all I can say. I just can`t
believe that it`s actually happened.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
O`DONNELL: Joining me through the hour is MSNBC`s Milissa Rehberger
who covered the May 3rd, 1999 tornado that hit this very same area of
Oklahoma, killing 36 people then.
Milissa, that tornado went right through Moore also.
MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: It did. It followed almost
the exact same path as the last one. And that was the worst weather event
I have ever witnessed in my life and I`m very sorry to say this is much
O`DONNELL: Joining me from Moore, Oklahoma, NBC News reporter Janet
Janet, what is the latest on the ground there?
JANET SHAMLIAN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Lawrence, obviously as we are
nearing darkness or past darkness here, that is slowing recovery efforts.
They`re calling this a recovery operation now until the morning.
What you`re seeing here are roads that are leading into Moore, and it
is basically everything that is near or around Moore has become paralyzed
because traffic can`t get in. They`re keeping people out at this point.
Earlier today, they were talking to people to see if they were residents,
making a decision whether they could go in.
Now, the only vehicles that are allowed in because we know there`s no
power in there are emergency vehicles, police, fire, utility, and the only
vehicles we have seen come out are a couple of ambulances and that now has
been several hours.
And talking about the paralysis that has gripped this area, at a time
when people need them most, cell phones have really become unusable because
-- not because the towers are out, but there`s so much use.
So we`re being told that phone companies are bringing in extra support
to assist with that. But right now, it is kind of a crawl as people try to
get into this area but are turned away, not able to get into their homes.
Back to you, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Janet, we are looking at an aerial picture of the school
right now where the search is continuing.
Have the authorities asked people to not travel in or out of the area?
I guess we don`t have Janet.
Milissa, in a situation like this, obviously, the traffic jam is
something that is almost impossible to avoid. People need to get in there,
people need to get out.
REHBERGER: You know what, it makes perfect sense and yes, they have
been asked not to drive that way. There was a traffic jam immediately,
people wanted to rush home, check on their homes, and God forbid they have
children in those schools, and a lot of people rushed in because they want
to help as well, and official help comes from different cities and counties
along the way.
So, you got all those people trying to get there. And then, you have
people trying to get home. They`re always told not to come but it`s human
nature. Of course, people want to check on their property and they want to
check on their loved ones.
O`DONNELL: Janet, I think we have our connection back. Can you hear
SHAMLIAN: Yes, I`ve got you now, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Janet, is there any chance that they`re going to be able
to get the traffic situation under control? Are the authorities letting
people know that they need them to get out of these roads?
SHAMLIAN: I don`t think so because this line, you see these four or
five cars waiting here, it goes back hundreds of cars, bumper-to-bumper for
two miles, all the way to the highway, and it looks like this at every kind
of entrance there is into Moore, and there are several off of the highway.
Even the highway is clogged with people trying to exit and turn around.
So, it`s really a bottleneck here, and understandably, they don`t have the
manpower now, Lawrence.
Supposedly 200 National Guard people will be here in the morning to
help with traffic control. But at this point it is more than they can
handle. They`re turning absolutely everyone away, and that word is not
reaching people several miles back who are waiting an hour or two just to
get to this point and then be turned down a different road. It is really a
mess right now.
REHBERGER: Janet, what is the scene around you like right now? Is
there organization to it yet? It is so early on. As I recall back to this
moment 14 years ago, it really does take even official searchers some time
to get their organization ready.
SHAMLIAN: I have to tell you I am just outside of Moore, so what I`m
seeing here are people that are trying to get in who are asking us for
news, who are asking us to use their cell phone. There`s just not a lot of
ability. I feel like the people that, you know, are outside of this area
have more information than people here now.
REHBERGER: I think you`re right.
SHAMLIAN: They`re not able to use cell phones, the power is out, and
it is a difficult situation. And I`ll tell you, when we heard the death
toll go up from what it was, 33 or 37 to 51 -- I mean, just people gathered
around this service station where we were, there was kind of just a
So, it is just still, you know, that shock and awe of this tragedy as
it unfolds by the minute.
REHBERGER: And one of the reasons, Janet, they don`t want all those
people coming in is there is so much danger lurking in the rubble. There
are gas leaks, I am sure they turned off the power, so there aren`t live
lines, but there are jagged pieces in the rubble every single place you
SHAMLIAN: Yes, that`s right. And to be honest, not everybody that`s
trying to get in there is a resident, some work there, some are trying to
help, well-meaning volunteers.
But at this point the situation is just so chaotic that they`re not
prepared to handle anyone than people that are already in there.
O`DONNELL: Janet Shamlian in Moore, Oklahoma, thank you very much for
O`DONNELL: Joining me now, Congressman Tom Cole, who represents the
district, including Moore, Oklahoma, where he also lives.
Congressman Cole, I know you`re in Washington tonight but are you
having trouble getting through to your home?
REP. TOM COLE (R), OKLAHOMA: I was able to get through. It is kind
of hit and miss. Your reports are exactly right. There`s heavy amount of
cell traffic, none of the normal phone lines obviously are working.
But I have been able to talk to my wife first and foremost, quite
frankly, and also to some local officials on the ground, the governor`s
office. The president was kind enough to call tonight.
So, things are under way. Sadly they`ve got a lot of experience. It
is the fourth time we`ve been hit in 15 years, and they`re pretty tough and
pretty tenacious. Got great first responders, and we got terrific support
from surrounding communities, obviously, from Oklahoma national guard and
eventually, federal government will play a key role as well.
So, we are getting there, but it is just devastating, Lawrence, just
O`DONNELL: Congressman Cole, could you tell us about your
conversation with the president tonight?
COLE: I certainly can, he was very gracious to call. He obviously
visited obviously with the governor, which is appropriate, and just wanted
to call and express his sympathy, and say, I want you to know we went
through what was being mobilized in terms of FEMA, and Norcom, said, Tom,
anything you need, just call the White House, we will be there for you.
And I know that to be true. I was a public official with Frank
Keating during the Oklahoma City bombing. When you go through these
things, you begin to figure out how lucky you are to be an American even in
the midst of tragedy, because extraordinary resources and capabilities of
the country are immediately available in a situation like this.
So, the president wanted to make sure he knew it was my hometown, that
that was going to be the case again. I didn`t have any doubt, but it was
very, very thoughtful of him to make the call.
O`DONNELL: Congressman Cole, we are going to be joined by the mayor
of Moore. I want you two to be able to speak to make sure Moore is getting
everything it needs.
We are joined now, we just had Mayor Glenn Lewis on the phone and just
lost him, so much for the phone connections there.
Congressman, what is your sense of what is needed there now? I know
you`re going to go home tomorrow and have a better sense of it. But what
are you hearing about what you need down there?
COLE: Well, first thing is what we don`t need. That was mentioned
earlier in your program, too. We don`t need people that are not trained
first responders and not been called to the scene. You, really, it is
better if you`re not there. You`re going to get in the way. It is going
to lengthen the amount of time in the search for survivors.
So please, please, please, if you`re not supposed to be there, you`re
not trained first responder, haven`t been called, don`t come.
Second, you know, I think we`re going to have everything we need in
terms of resources. Again, sadly, we`re very experienced with this, so are
the surrounding communities. So I`m pretty comfortable that people -- it
is going to take time.
Again, this is an extraordinary event. Even worse I think from what
my friends tell me on the ground than 1999 was. So, more damage, obviously
more deaths. We lost more people already than we lost in `99 and most of
them in Moore.
In 1999, that event was spread over much larger area, Oklahoma City
and that particular F5 was on the ground for 80 miles. This was on the
ground for a much shorter period of time, less warning, and more
concentrated fury, if you will.
So, it will be a few days before we know whether it`s F4 or F5. But
if you`re in front of one of those, even if you do everything right,
there`s not a lot you can do if you`re above ground. That`s the tragedy in
Plaza Towers. Those teachers and children did exactly the right thing.
They were safer in the school. Much more secure environment, thick walls,
interior hall ways, built to deal with tornadoes.
The houses around where most of the children would come from, there`s
another elementary only a mile away. So, most of those children were very
local, if anything more exposed.
So again, the teachers, administrators, the children did exactly the
right thing, and it`s still because they were in the wrong place at the
wrong time, there wasn`t much could help them. It just breaks your heart.
O`DONNELL: Congressman Cole, that`s what feels so painful about the
story is that these people were warned in the morning with the weather
reports that things could get very bad, but unlike other conceivable
weather situations, it seems impossible to guess what the best thing is to
do. You`re saying given everything we know -- the school is probably the
better place to be rather than home. But as the luck of this turns out, it
may turn out to be the opposite.
COLE: It may. And you know, it`s just so different than a hurricane.
Those things are awful. They cover a wide area. These are actually more
damage but a much smaller area.
So the odds are always that it`s not going to hit you, even if it
comes through your town that you`ll probably be OK. And look at the one in
`99 was 100 yards or so north of my house. This one is about 300 yards to
the south. No damage in our area.
So you know, it will look like nothing happened. So, it really is.
There`s an element of luck in it or bad luck, misfortune, that`s clearly
what happened. And after that, all you can do is prepare best you can.
We were well-prepared. We warned as well as you could be warned.
People take it seriously, know what to do.
Again, first responders, police, fire are terrific at this. So, I am
comfortable things were done well and certainly the response has been good.
But you know, we were just a community in the wrong place at the wrong
time. And now, obviously, with dozens and dozens of people dead.
O`DONNELL: Congressman Tom Cole, thank you for joining us on this
very difficult night for you and for your community. I really appreciate
you being with us.
COLE: Lawrence, thank you. And thanks for covering my folks and my
O`DONNELL: We`re going to continue to do that. Thank you,
COLE: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: Our breaking news coverage of the horrible devastation in
Moore, Oklahoma, will continue. We`ll have the latest on the ground and
also what you can do to help. That`s coming up.
O`DONNELL: In Oklahoma at this hour, rescue crews and volunteers are
digging through the wreckage of homes and schools and other buildings
destroyed by the tornado near Oklahoma City. At least 51 people are now
confirmed dead, including seven children who were lost at Plaza Towers
Elementary School where rescue workers are still looking for about two
dozen missing children, according to the lieutenant governor.
Officials at two hospitals say they`re treating more than 120
patients, including about 70 children. The tornado that struck today was
on the ground for about 20 miles.
The National Weather Service confirms it was an EF4, which means it
had winds of more than 200 miles per hour.
Weather Channel meteorologist Brian Norcross says the tornado only
lasted about 40 minutes and was at peak intensity for just 15 minutes.
It hit peak intensity as it hit the town of Moore, Oklahoma, right
when it hits Towers Elementary School, it was at its peak.
Joining me now on the phone from Moore, Oklahoma, is Jill Ashtaugh,
who lost her home in today`s deadly tornado.
Jill, where are you now?
JILL ASHTAUGH, LOST HOME IN TODAY`S TORNADO (via telephone): I am at
a friend`s house in Norman.
O`DONNELL: And what did you do as the tornado approached?
ASHTAUGH: My husband came in and said there`s a lady across the
street, Kathy, was able to let us in our shelter. I grabbed my son from
his crib, he had been sleeping, took off, he brought two of my dogs over.
And Sheila, the other neighbor with three little kids came in, and
then my husband and two other dogs went into a neighbor`s shelter. When we
knew it was safe, he came over, asked if we were OK, said I was OK. I said
what about the elementary school at the end of the street.
At that point, he looked up and took off. He is a national guardsman.
He needed to do what he`s supposed to do.
O`DONNELL: So, Jill, you were at the end of the street from the
ASHTAUGH: Yes. We`re not even a block from Briarwood. Our street
dead ends to Briarwood Elementary.
O`DONNELL: I see.
Was there a moment of most extreme intensity, could you feel a hit
moment in that neighborhood?
ASHTAUGH: Yes. There was a point where all this sludge was coming
through the cracks, in the door to the part of the shelter. And at that
point, I thought the door had come open because we saw a lot of light.
What happened, the garage had been ripped off the house, and the light was
coming in from the cracks, and they had just put it in a year ago.
And at that point, you could feel the bottom of it start to buckle.
That`s how strong it was.
O`DONNELL: And, Jill, what would have happened if you had not left
ASHTAUGH: I have a safe place we were going to go to. I had two
options in my house, one I thought would be safe was not the safest place.
The place I was contemplating going to was standing, would have been better
at that place. But luckily we have neighbors that were able to take us in,
and we`re extremely grateful to them.
O`DONNELL: Jill Ashtaugh, we`re very glad you made the right move at
the right time and are still with us.
Thank you very, very much for joining us tonight.
ASHTAUGH: Thank you very much for having me on.
O`DONNELL: We are joined by phone by Glenn Lewis, the mayor of Moore,
Can you hear me, Mr. Mayor?
MAYOR GLENN LEWIS, MOORE, OKLAHOMA (via telephone): Yes, sir, I can.
O`DONNELL: Tell me what your needs are in Moore right now.
LEWIS: Right now, we need power. What we have is a lot of onlookers
and stuff. We have a lot of volunteers. We`re sill going through debris,
still looking for people, doing search and rescue.
Right now, the power service for the telephones are kind of
intermittent, come and go. But right now, we`re still looking for victims.
Our heart goes out to families of the victims and all of those injured.
We`re still finding people in the rubble that are OK.
We have some fatalities and we just are not real sure how many yet.
So I can`t confirm that. Anyway, it is quite a mess.
We have been through this before. I was mayor in the May 3rd tornado
in `99, so we have been through this before. We have a really good team
here that can basically work through this
The town is basically a total debris field. It looks like it was
bombed. But most of our major businesses are still intact. Two or three
of the housing additions are in really bad shape, a couple of them are
leveled as you`ve probably seen on news reports.
The hospital is completely destroyed. We have like I said most
businesses are up and running. A lot of the people, we had plenty of
warning time, at least some people say we did.
We had about 15, 20 minutes warning time on this, and thanks to the
media, a lot of people were saved in this, they took shelter.
O`DONNELL: Mayor Lewis, I have one of your friends in the media, your
old friend Milissa Rehberger here who has a question for you.
REHBERGER: Mayor Lewis, I was in your city on May 3rd of 1999 and the
days that followed and my condolences, first and foremost.
REHBERGER: And I can`t believe it was there again and appears to be
worse than that epic storm back then.
Give us an idea how, especially at night, you try to regroup and
figure out who might have been at home at the time and who might still be
in need of rescue tonight?
LEWIS: Right. Before it got dark, we went rough house by house
throughout neighborhoods. The police and fire department have been
We have experience in this. I have been mayor for 19 years here. We
have had four of these tornadoes, none of them as big as this. The May
3rd, the F5, this one will probably be F4, I`m not sure. It doesn`t really
It`s very bad. We went door to door, in almost every house. We had
plenty of neighborhoods from the neighborhoods around us. The city of
Norman, city of Oklahoma City, a couple schools are in Oklahoma City as
well, and we had five schools hit and we`re still going through the rubble
in one of the schools looking for survivors, hopefully will find some.
REHBERGER: Tell us about that process, if you would. I know that
there were dogs out earlier. Is there listening equipment? What sort of
things are at your disposal to find people deeply buried?
LEWIS: Some of the best teams in the world, dog teams that hunt for
cadavers in major disasters around the world in earthquakes and situations
like that are based here in Oklahoma and particularly in Moore. Oklahoma
City has seven dogs at their disposal and we basically took them up on the
offer, they`ve come in and they`re working the dogs at the school. And at
the hospital I believe.
The Briarwood School which was hit, all the students apparently are
accounted for there. And like I said, five schools have been hit. I`m
sorry, you may not be able to hear me. There`s a medi flight leaving the
station right now.
Anyway, it`s -- like I said, we`re dealing with it. Think we will be
able to overcome this. It`s just a matter of time. We have Oklahoma
resolve (INAUDIBLE) anyway, we will get it put back together. It will take
us awhile. Everybody is coming together, neighbors are helping each other.
I heard Melissa, or Jill, whoever it was a while on the phone that you
got on there, unfortunately I can`t talk to her because communications now,
everything -- I can only talk to out of state people unfortunately. So, we
are having a hard time communicating. Other than that, we`re doing good.
O`DONNELL: Mr. Mayor, thank you for joining us. Glenn Lewis, the
mayor of Moore, Oklahoma, where this devastating tornado hit -- thank you
very much for joining us.
LEWIS: Thank you. Appreciate it. Bye.
O`DONNELL: We will be back with more breaking news coverage of this
horrible devastation in Oklahoma.
O`DONNELL: Joining me now by phone is Nigel Holderby of the American
Red Cross. Could you tell us what resources the Red Cross is bringing to
Moore, Oklahoma now?
NIGEL HOLDERBY, AMERICAN RED CROSS: Well, at this moment -- and our
hearts are just with all of these that are effected in such a devastating
storm. We do have shelters open in the Moore area and the Oklahoma City
area. We are locating other shelters. We are at the sites where the first
responders are still doing search and rescue. And we`re out with food and
supplies, water, making sure that those first responders are staying
hydrated and staying healthy while they`re out looking for these people who
are still not reported in.
We also have our emergency response vehicles that are positioning to
move first thing in the morning. What they`ll be doing is they will be out
with mobile feeding, so in support. We`re sending our kitchen trailers to
make sure that we have those operations to provide meals for those people
who have been forced out of their homes.
O`DONNELL: It is really extraordinary work that you do. I saw it
myself here at the hurricane that hit New York and Staten Island. The --
what would you say to people around the country who would like to help in
some way at this point?
HOLDERBY: You know, this is such a major disaster and so much
devastation. And the Red Cross will be there for these people in the
Oklahoma communities for quite some time. So this will be a very expensive
response. And we would love to encourage people to make a donation to
support the Red Cross response. You can do that by visiting RedCross.org.
You can dial 1-800-Red-Cross, or simply text to the word Red Cross to the
number 90999 and make a 10 dollar donation.
O`DONNELL: Nigel Holderby of the American Red Cross, thank you for
what you do. Thank you for joining us tonight.
HOLDERBY: Thank you for having us on.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, more on the deadly tornado and its aftermath,
including a live report again from Moore, Oklahoma.
O`DONNELL: The tornado that ravaged Moore, Oklahoma touched down at
2:56 local time this afternoon. Here is a look at the storm as it
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You never want to say it, but we`re going to say
it right now. This is May 3rd all over again, as far as the intensity of
this tornado, where it is heading. And something has to change fast or it
is going to be very close to a May 3rd event. Never want to say that, but
that`s what we have right now. It is shrouded in debris.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This thing is huge. Keep going left, Travis.
Keep going left. Right there, boom, there it is. There it is, Mike, on
the ground, easily -- there might even be two of them. There might be two.
I`m showing two dark spots with a right level in it. I don`t think the
first one is rain.
I do know that the back one is definitely a tornado. Definitely be in
your tornado shelter. Be aware, be underground. Or like Mike said, just
get out of there, because this thing is on the ground, and continuing to
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Folks, if you`re listening to us, you need to be -
- we`re talking about these areas. You can`t be in an interior closet or
bathroom. Don`t lose your life. Go get away from it or go below ground,
storm cellar, basement, or safe room. It`s the only option.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was coming right at us. And we`re getting
ready to turn south here at South Moore High School. You can see our
video. It is absolutely massive. It`s shredding everything in front of
it. We`re shooting outside glass here right now. But it`s just tracking
straight east down 19th street, track right over there where we was at.
Probably a quarter to half mile from it before we had to turn around and
Violent, violent motion. A huge debris cloud wrapped around it. Zoom
in tighter on it. It looks like it may be =-- Mike, it may be actually
starting to lift a little bit more north now than east.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would venture to say it looks like about an EF-
4. It could be an EF-5. Makes no difference. You`ve got to be below
ground. Interior closet or bathroom is not going to do it. Or get out of
its way. Storm cellar, basement or safe room or below ground of any kind.
Do not be in your car near the tornado. Drive away from it, if you have no
option, to save your life. Abandon where you are if you can`t get below
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s just pretty much moving east, northeast.
It`s just getting more violent. I mean, it has no signs of weakening
whatsoever. I mean, we`re probably at least EF-4 status here, as violent
as this motion is. Huge chunks of debris floating hundreds of feet in the
air, whole trees floating hundreds of feet in the air. I can`t tell you
what kind of neighborhood it is moving through, Mike. We`re just -- we`re
probably about a mile east of it now. Maybe east, southeast of it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Again, you cannot delay. You can`t think. You
can`t delay. You`ve got to act. You`ve got to act. You can`t think or
delay. You`ve got to act, and act, and act to save your life and save your
loved ones` lives. You`ve got to act.
At 3:15 in the afternoon, a violent tornado going through south
Oklahoma City metro. It is in central Moore right now, exactly at Western
Avenue and Santa Fe Avenue on 19th Street. It is over those neighborhoods
right now. And it is going for the Warren Theater and I-35.
Folks, you are literally out of time. You need to be where you are
with your mobile device, watching us online in an area that is of
substantial safety, below ground, storm cellar, basement. Car won`t do it.
Interior closet or bathroom will not do it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The inflow of this, the feeder band has lowered.
It is really sucking in a lot of energy. This thing is sucking us in at
about 47, 50 miles an hour right now. We`re holding the hover. But it is
just pulling it right to us. This thing is on the ground, grinding,
ripping everything up. And it is definitely -- take caution to get in your
tornado shelter right now.
So if you`re in that area, you have somebody in that area, definitely
get out of there. You can see those intense -- very intense power flashes.
We`re starting to hear some noise over the head set, Mike, and the
helicopter. So there`s definitely -- this thing has a lot of energy. It
has definitely not decreased any at all. As you can see from our shots,
this thing is a monster.
It is so big, it has completely lost its texture. It is wrapped up in
debris. It`s wrapped up in rain. And this thing is just grinding right
through Moore, just like it did, you know, in 1999.
As you can see, it kind of funnels out. It has a pretty big lowering.
Then we can almost make out just a little V shape in the very bottom of it,
where that tornado is physically on the ground, just destroying power lines
and everything in its way. As you can see, big power flashes there. It is
continuing to track east.
And Mike, this is fixing to get in a bad area, because we`re coming
right back into housing additions and more of the residential part of town
here. Look at that power flash on the far right of your screen, if you
look in there. Take a look at that. It is a way out there. So the wind
in front of this thing has got to be just whipping.
So this thing is definitely something not to play with. Look at all
that debris in the air. I mean, that debris, it is 500 or 600 feet up in
the air and it`s going. So it is still grinding, still on the ground.
It`s -- man, it is really ripping. This thing hasn`t decreased in size
And I am actually kind of getting a little closer than I want to be to
it right now. But this thing is sucking us in at about 50 to 60 miles an
hour right now. I am tracking it. The inflow is still huge. It`s sucking
all of that energy. But it`s still continuing, tracking straight east.
It`s lighting it up. It`s becoming more of a barrel shaped.
The wedge has decreased a little bit. It is slowly turning -- it
almost looks like it has turned to the southeast. So I am breaking away
from it as fast as I can, because it is getting a little closer for my
comfort. But it`s definitely -- it has changed shape. It has barreled.
It has gotten a little higher. The base has rised. The base is probably
about 1,300 or 1,400 feet above ground. So it`s just 300 or 400 feet below
And as you can see, it has a definite cone shape on it. And it
appears it has turned to the southeast. It actually looks like it has
decreased a little bit. We`ve lost I think a lot of the debris, so it kind
of changed the shape of it. It gave it more of a barrel shape, and not as
much of a structure. So you can actually see the shape of the tornado now,
because the only thing it has to rip up right now is trees. We`re not
getting all of the construction debris we had earlier that actually appears
to give it a wider base than it is.
But it is continuing to rip. It kind of has a big truck down, and
then it has kind of has little funnel there, tracking straight for 149th
Street, in the southwest side of Draper (ph) Lake, right toward the water
treatment plant at this time. It is really -- it`s really fizzling out, as
we`re seeing. I`m going to do another turn here. I`m getting kind of far
away. But it looks like it is roping out a little bit. And this is over
like 149th Street and maybe just the east side of Depot Road.
There it is. It is gone, Mike. So let`s see -- we are going to stay
right here. We`re going to see if it recycles . But it`s completely roped
out. It`s continuing to rope out as we speak right now. It looks like it
is roping out at Air Depot Road and I am going to say 134th Street, right
in that area. So man, look at the rope on that thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Melissa Rehberger, you worked there in local news. And
you were telling me that the meteorologists there are treated like local
heroes because that kind of reporting saves lives.
REHBERGER: And they do save lives every single year by doing just
that very thing. As you watch that kind of coverage, you can see these
true experts in their fields just trying to keep up with what`s happening
on a moment`s notice, to figure out where this thing is going to land and
who needs to get out.
And something that happened today absolutely amazed me, because most
people do not have basements or shelters because of the soil in the area.
So he was saying you would normally say get into the inner most area of the
house. Get into the bathtub, put your mattress over you, if that`s what
you have to do. Get underground is the best thing to do.
But he said -- and people have reported on this. They were told if
you can`t get underground today, get in your car and high tail it as far
away from this thing as possible. They don`t want you in your car.
O`DONNELL: It`s dangerous to be in a car. But in this case more
dangerous to stay where you are.
REHBERGER: He realized it was desperate. He recognized that storm
for what it was. And he realized that it was that desperate. And he did
something that I have never seen one of them do before.
O`DONNELL: We`re going to have a live report from the scene next. A
video of the tornado -- also we`re going to show you a video of the tornado
that you have not yet seen. Dramatic video.
O`DONNELL: We have some new video that we have not yet been able to
show you, shot by Michael Welsh (ph) on his camera phone of this Oklahoma
tornado. Let`s take a look at what he captured.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining me from outside Moore, Oklahoma, NBC News
correspondent Jay Gray. Jay, thank you very much for joining us. What --
we have 51 confirmed dead at this point. What more news do we expect to
develop over the course of the night?
JAY GRAY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Lawrence, unfortunately we expect
that number to go up over the course of this evening. In fact, we have
been told by the Oklahoma State Medical Examiner`s Office that it could go
up shortly, as they continue to work through recovery in this area.
Take a look behind me. We are obviously limited -- it is so dark in
this area -- as to what we can show you. I am right where Moore and
Oklahoma City come together, so right along the path of where this storm
worked through. And if Melissa is still there, maybe she can explain as
well, but there`s an eerie silence as the sun sets and darkness sets in
here. No lights, it`s only interrupted -- and maybe you hear that now --
by the roar of responders. This is a fire truck that`s moving behind us
and moving through.
And we continue to see those emergency units moving into this area.
This is a process that`s going to go on throughout the evening. We can
still smell -- we can still in some places hear the fractured gas lines.
We`ve seen crews working on that. We know that power lines are down across
this region obviously. There`s running water from a main that shattered
just behind this splintered home.
So the infrastructure here is completely wrecked. If you can listen,
they`re urging people to get out of this area. In fact, we have seen a
stream of city buses that have just come through. They`re loading up
survivors and taking them away to shelters that are opened in the are, or
at least getting them out of the strike zone here so they can be reunited
with family members or friends.
So still a very active, very fluid situation here, Lawrence.
REHBERGER: Jay, this is Melissa. And you`re absolutely right. Where
you`re standing -- maybe you can describe it for people at home, the
tragedy of this is that so much of Oklahoma is rural. It hit one of the
most well populated suburbs in the state, literally in the state. You`re
just southeast of Oklahoma City. You`re right there. And it is home on
top of home. It is a subdivision. It could not have chosen a more well
GRAY: No, you make a terrific point because anywhere else or most
anywhere else in Oklahoma, it could have touched down and no one would have
known. It is like that tree in the woods scenario. But it did attack an
area that is heavily populated. And to come on this at first glance -- we
were one of the first teams in here -- and to see what was a neighborhood,
what was an elementary school a block away, completely wiped away, and then
to see parents bringing their children up, the children asking and parents
saying, it is gone, your school is gone, and trying to explain that, trying
to wrap your head around that, and dealing with the devastation that`s
here, just unbearable for so many.
And really, this is only just the beginning. I mean, these crews are
just now moving into areas they haven`t seen before. And that`s going to
continue through the night and into the morning. So the recovery effort
here, the hope of finding those who may be pinned in debris or injured is
something that`s going to work through the evening tirelessly, obviously,
the officials here and the first responders have said. But they also
understand that time is of the essence, and it`s quickly running out.
They have to work on the infrastructure. They`ve got to get the power
back. They`ve got to get the gas secure. And they`ve got to get the water
running and working in areas like this, so they can begin the recovery and
the clean up here. But obviously that`s going to take a long time.
Look again. And I don`t think we can show enough to emphasize just
how dramatic the situation is here. And this is not obviously the worst of
it, guys. So as we come back in here, understand that we`re going to see
this parade of responders coming through as we continue to monitor things
here. That`s the latest live. Back to you.
O`DONNELL: Jay Gray, thank you very much for joining us tonight.
Our breaking news coverage of the tornado in Oklahoma continues in a
O`DONNELL: Joining me now, Kelly Wells, the spokesperson for the
Norman Regional Health System in Norman, Oklahoma. Kelly, what precautions
did you take as you knew that this tornado was coming toward your
KELLY WELLS, NORMAN REGIONAL HEALTH SYSTEM SPOKESPERSON: Well, I tell
you what, our hospitals are about five miles apart. We have two on the
southern in Norman and we have the one in Moore Medical Center. So we knew
there for awhile that either one or all three had the potential to be in
the tornado path.
Luckily the two southernmost hospitals escaped the damage. The
hospital in Moore took a direct hit. But we had -- luckily in Oklahoma, as
you know probably, we have a fair amount of warning time, lead time leading
to this type of severe weather. So -- as a health system, we have
procedures in place to move patients where they need to be, safest part of
the hospital, if a scenario like this was headed our way.
This time, it did. It happened. We took a direct hit in Moore at
Moore Medical Center. We had about 30 patients in the hospital at that
time. And our staff was able to move all of those patients to the first
floor cafeteria, which is in the center part of the facility. And all of
the staff was able to get there. And they were able to usher about 300
plus community members who showed up at the hospital to seek shelter from
They were able to get all those people into the inner most part of the
facility during the storm when it passed over. And amazingly, that`s one
of the only areas in the facility that was still standing.
O`DONNELL: Kelly, when we think of all the people who know this is
coming and the reactions and what they`re going to do, the choices they`re
going to make, people who are in hospital beds, who are completely
helpless, who are at the mercy of your wisdom about what to do, what was
their reaction like when the staff was coming around and urgently moving
WELLS: You know, I`m sure they were probably alarmed. I can imagine.
But health care workers are amazing, resilient people who dedicate their
lives to helping people. And we have plans in place. We drill on plans.
Here in Oklahoma, we drill on tornado damage like this a lot, frequently.
So they know what to do. They know timed how long it takes to get
patients where they need to be for protection. They were able to have
enough warning this time to get them where they needed to be and usher
those that came in, who had no other place to go, to safety.
O`DONNELL: And now Kelly, there`s pressure on your hospital system in
the aftermath of this tornado, with some unprecedented levels of injury.
How are the hospitals dealing with this?
WELLS: Right now, we`re doing OK. Our team has really stepped up to
the challenge. And they are treating people just as fast as they come in.
You know, it is kind of a leveled treating operation right now. We have
people who are coming in with less significant injuries going to one part
of the facility, those that are a little bit of a step up go into another
part of the facility, in triaged areas.
I think drilling has made a huge effect on that. We are seeing -- we
have two hospitals in Norman area, one on the east side of town and one on
the west side of town. At those facilities, we`ve seen probably a total of
close to 100 people who have come in seeking medical treatment.
O`DONNELL: Kelly Wells with Norman Regional Health System, thank you
very much for joining us tonight, telling your story. And thank you for
the work you continue to do there.
WELLS: You`re welcome, thanks.
O`DONNELL: Melissa Rehberger, thank you very much for joining me
tonight on this special coverage. Our MSNBC live coverage of the
devastation in Oklahoma continues now with Chris Hayes.
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