Nightly News   |  May 22, 2013

Credit union vault saved 22 from tornado

The heavily reinforced vault that saved 22 lives is all that is left standing of what had been the Tinker Federal Credit Union, one of many places people managed to hide from the deadly tornado. On Wednesday, Moore, Okla., officials discussed the idea of making safe rooms mandatory for new homes. NBC’s Lester Holt reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> good evening. we are just back from moore , oklahoma , where life won't be normal for years, where the earth has been wiped clean in some places, and where the death toll stands still at 24, 324 people injured, ten children including two infants are among the dead. considering the fact that they have counted up 13,000 homes in the path of this one storm, some people are already expressing both thanks and surprise that the toll wasn't even higher. following the rarest of all tornadoes, the ef5, the most powerful on earth. today we learn how and where so many people were able to hide, ride it out, and survive this one. we begin our coverage from moore , oklahoma , tonight with nbc's lester holt . good evening.

>> reporter: good evening. the figure you mentioned, 13,000 homes in the path, that's destroyed or badly damaged. that's a huge impact in a town of only 56,000. imagine that. $2 billion in damage and this town is still beginning to accept, understand, and grieve the loss of so many who live here as we learn more names of the dead. at the same time, folks continue to marvel that so many people walked out of wreckage like this alive.

>> i hope everyone's okay.

>> reporter: each new view of the massive funnel makes it harder to comprehend how so many people survived. it's a question mike soto has wrestled with since he was pulled from under his house on monday.

>> that's a miracle.

>> reporter: mike was in a closet when his house fell in around him. trapped he scraped a metal wire through an opening to attract his neighbors' attention.

>> they said, make a noise, make a noise. they could not find me. finally they found me.

>> reporter: most of the dead have been identified. among them 6-year-old hemmet bondi. then the children killed at plaza tower s elementary school like these best friends who reportedly died holding onto each other. emily's mother posted on facebook, i know she is in heaven smiling down. the father of jenae hornsby spoke of the search for his daughter.

>> i was just hoping maybe she might have just been unconscious. i hoped she was alive.

>> reporter: matt lauer got a firsthand look at the devastation inside the school, and the toll it took on first responders.

>> once we have the first responders that come in contact with the bodies, especially children, they are offered different counseling.

>> reporter: there is no rhyme or reason to why some lived and others didn't. the tinker federal credit union before the tornado and after. the heavily reinforced vault is all that's standing. it's where jan and theresa took cover with 20 others.

>> even through the closed door you could hear the disintegration of what we are standing in now. there was no doubt in any of our mind that is the building was gone on the outside.

>> to me that was the only option.

>> reporter: this homeowner heard an interior room was the fastest place to shelter in a pinch. he and his wife chose this closet.

>> all i heard was a -- and it was quiet. i sat there -- we sat there for a bit.

>> reporter: when it was over, half his house and most of his neighborhood was gone. few homes in this corner of tornado alley have storm cellars or safe rooms. today, town officials proposed the idea of making them mandatory for new homes.

>> if you ask most people out there, they are going to rebuild and probably get a storm shelter.

>> reporter: of more immediate concern here, cleaning up as heavy equipment crews moved in today, so did an army of volunteers, loaded with rakes, shovels, and big hearts.

>> this is what being oklahoman is about. you help your friends and family. it's called oklahoma strong.

>> reporter: tomorrow is the last day of school in moore . brian, kid who s have been encouraged to go to other schools to close out the year with their classmates.

>> lester holt in moore , oklahoma .