ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES
May 20, 2013
Guests: Kurt Gwartney, Bill Bunting, Paul Douglas, Scott Hines, Mike Bettes, Dr. Gregg Forbes
CHRIS HAYES, HOST: Thank you for joining us.
We`re continuing to cover the terrible situation in Moore, Oklahoma,
where a tornado we heard described today is possibly the worst in recorded
history, just devastated the Oklahoma City suburb this afternoon.
Here is what we know. At this moment, people are still trapped and
reports of fatalities are beginning to mount. As seen in this time-lapse
video for tornado that grew up to a mile wide, with winds up to 200 miles
per hour, swept through Moore, Oklahoma, this morning.
An elementary school, Plaza Towers Elementary, took a direct hit.
There were immediate efforts to rescue students and faculty, ranging from
kindergarten through third grade who are on the site at the time of impact.
According to KFOR in Oklahoma City, NBC News local affiliate, that
search and rescue teams going through the debris have shifted to a recovery
mode, according to KFOR`s Lance West, with possibly two dozen fatalities
Fourth, fifth and sixth grade students are reportedly safe and
accounted for and have been escorted to a church before the tornado hit.
The National Weather Service categorizes today`s tornado as at least
an EF-5, with winds in excess of 166 miles an hour. KFOR`s meteorologist
said today`s tornado was likely an EF-5, the most severe, with winds speeds
of more than 200 miles an hour.
According to initial reports, today`s tornado was three times more
extensive that tore through the same area, Moore, on May 3rd, 1999. That
storm had the highest winds ever recorded near the earth`s surface.
Today`s tornado track is 20 miles long, it`s peak intensity, 15 to 20
minutes right over Moore, Oklahoma.
The tornado flattened entire neighborhoods, as you can see from the
footage we are rolling and left fires, destruction, and devastation
everywhere in its wake.
Volunteers and first responders immediately began the search for
survivors in the rubble. They were aided by residents sifting through
debris, listening for cries for help.
The Oklahoma City chief medical examiner`s office tells NBC News,
there are at least as of right now ten confirmed fatalities from today`s
tornadoes, with search and rescue obviously ongoing.
Oklahoma City police say there`s a continued risk from downed power
lines and open gas lines in the aftermath of the storm. The staging area
for search and rescue has been set up by Moore, Oklahoma`s Warren Theater.
The Red Cross is opening as shelter. And the University of Oklahoma is
welcoming displaced families at this moment.
President Obama has been notified and the administration through FEMA
is closely monitoring the storm.
And joining me now, we go to the scene. Kurt Gwartney, news director
of KGOU-FM, was in Moore, Oklahoma, at the Moore Medical Center.
Kurt, what is the scene like there at this moment?
KURT GWARTNEY, KGOU (via telephone): As a lifelong Oklahoman who has
been through his share of tornadoes, I have never seen anything like that,
this including the May 3rd, 1999 tornado. Right now, the cars that are
piled just like hot wheels in the medical center`s parking lot are being
gone through one by one, and we have police, the National Guard officers
who are spraying fluorescent point Xs on the vehicles to make sure they`re
clear and there`s no one inside them.
HAYES: Are you seeing people -- is the medical center right now
GWARTNEY: The medical center was evacuated after the tornado. It is
severely damaged. One might call it destroyed. It is not quite, it is
still stand. But I didn`t see any windows or doors that are still intact.
An adjacent medical office complex is even in worse shape, almost looking
like a bomb exploded from the inside out.
HAYES: Is there anything right now in Moore that is functional or is
it just complete and total devastation in every direction?
GWARTNEY: Well, that`s the interesting thing about tornadoes, is that
they are isolated, even though this one was a very long tracked tornado and
extremely powerful. Outside of this area, really things are operating as
they normally would.
What you noticed as you get closer and closer, is you notice more
pieces of debris, insulation, tree leaves in people`s yards and the closer
you get to the devastation, the more of that you see and larger pieces you
find. In my case, Little River neighborhood, which is across the street
from medical center, where there is not a single, single home left
HAYES: We`re looking at some footage that was taken just from earlier
from the local affiliate, and see folks returning to the site of some of
the devastation and destruction, are people out on the streets? Are they
coming back to their houses to assess what`s gone on? What is going on in
the streets there that you see there right there?
GWARTNEY: There are quite a few people out there, some are just
looking, there are many, though, who come and you can tell by the work
gloves stuck in their pockets that they`re coming to help.
And I ran across a truckload of about a dozen young men who were going
house to house asking people if they needed help and jumping out and moving
refrigerators and heavy things and I have talked to several families who
have returned to just totally destroyed homes, to sort through and see what
they can find. It`s one woman, it`s surprising how people react in these
situations, she found a pair of tennis shoes belonging to a grandchild and
was very excited to find those tennis shoes even though the rest of her
home was gone.
HAYES: Kurt, you`ve been in this area, as you said, and you were
there during the may 1999 tornado, which had the highest recorded wind
speeds in the world, I believe. Where does this rank in terms of that?
You said it`s more destructive. And how prepared were people for the
magnitude and intensity of this?
GWARTNEY: Well, forecasters of the National Weather Service Norman
forecast office had been warning Oklahomans that this could happen for at
least a week, it was last Wednesday when they first started alerting that
that we would see a significant tornado outbreak and many people here had
at least a half hour lead time, thanks to the efforts of the National
Weather and the local media who are all very well-versed and practiced in
And they follow tornadoes here on the Oklahoma area on a block by
block level. So, you really can know when it`s time to check shelter?
HAYES: Kurt Gwartney, thank you so much for checking in with us. We
may return to you later in the hour.
Let`s now go to Bill Bunting of the Storm Prediction Center at the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He joins us from
My question, Bill, first, is how well were you able in the office
there to predict the magnitude and path this storm would take?
BILL BUNTING, STORM PREDICTION CENTER: Well, it`s never possible to
predict the exact path very far in advance. The Storm Prediction Center
had been highlighting the threat of a multi-day severe weather and tornado
event across the plains, as early as last Tuesday.
And so, we knew that the setup was favorable. We knew the conditions
were right for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. But in terms of
predicting the exact magnitude and the exact path, that`s still something
that we can`t do very far out in the future.
But in a general sense, folks out here knew it was coming and this is
one of those periods of time where you have a plan in your mind and be
ready to put it into action quickly.
HAYES: What is the protocol for dealing with a storm like this? I
mean, for someone like me who`s not from the region, not from tornado
alley, has not had to go through this annual event that I think a lot of
folks in that country have -- what do you do? What is the best practice
when you are staring down the barrel of something as ferociously
destructive and unpredictable in its pathway as what happened today?
BUNTING: Well, I think in terms of folks who might be in the path who
aren`t meteorologists and just want to make sure they`re safe, knowledge is
important. Knowing the forecast, knowing the days that are most likely to
produce severe weather, monitoring the weather more carefully, is certainly
the first step. Second, having a plan that you thought about well in
advance for you and your family to keep safe, and then when the warning is
issued for your area, often, the tendency is to wait until it gets closed.
You have to put that plan into action right away. Find the safest in your
And while that`s often the safest course of action, in the case of a
tornado, of the intensity today, if you`re in the path, there`s always some
degree of danger.
HAYES: Bill, stay with us.
I want to bring in NBC News national correspondent Janet Shamlian on
the scene in Moore, Oklahoma.
Janet, where are you and what are you seeing right now?
JANET SHAMLIAN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Chris. Good evening to
Well, what we`re seeing is basically the paralysis that has encumbered
everything in and around Moore. Moore is about a mile and a half behind
me. And the cars that you see here trying to get in have been basically
inching their way for about 30 minutes, to travel just a mile, and have not
been able to get in.
What`s happened in there has paralyzed communication, AT&T, Verizon,
forget it, nothing is working in terms of cell phones, and a lot of these
people are coming home from work trying to get back into their community.
They`re talking about commutes that have taken two and three hours to go a
distance of eight and 20 miles. Not just the roads into Moore, but the
highways, the major highways back as far as Oklahoma City have just become
choked with traffic. We have seen on occasion, vehicles going in that are
state troopers, police, fire, ambulances.
We have only seen two ambulances come out within the last hour, both
of them with lights flashing and speeding out of there. That was a hopeful
sign for us all, that perhaps they had found a survivor that they were
rushing to a hospital in Oklahoma City.
But for these people who may be trying to get into the city, it`s
going to be very hard tonight. They are limiting access as we have seen
from those aerials, inside Moore, they`re going house to house to house,
doing a search for any survivors. And most people are being turned away
from getting into the region, Chris.
HAYES: NBC`s Janet Shamlian with the latest. Thank you very much for
that. We will continue to monitor your situation.
What you`re looking at right now is the Google street view of Moore,
Oklahoma`s Plaza Tower Elementary School. This is what the school look
like before today`s devastation. Just about an hour ago, KFOR reporter
Jesse Wells filed this report outside what used to be Plaza Towers
Elementary, where initially report has scores of children inside the school
when the tornado struck.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JESSE WELLS, KFOR REPORTER: This is the front of Plaza Towers
Elementary School. You can see, again, we`ve said it before from the air -
- this school is basically gone. It`s totally destroyed. Most of the
As you can see, there`s a number of cars that were thrown into the
front of this building. This is actually an office on the very front of
this school. There`s a truck, an SUV of some kind that`s thrown into the
front of that school.
Over here, just to the south, there have been emergency crews have
been continuing to work on getting kids out of this school building.
Again, I told you, a few moments ago, I talked to a couple of kids who were
in the school at that time. They were literally hugging the walls of the
interior hallways, as that tornado went overhead, trying to survive. They
were being protected by some of the teachers that worked in this school
Again, right now, I do not know how many kids were inside are still
inside. Again, apparently, there may still be kids inside the school. We
really don`t know. The information is very sparse coming out from down
But, again, you can see, the search and rescue crews continuing to
treat the kids that were in this school, that search for kids if there may
still be kids inside, and honestly, it`s not, of course, just the school
that got hit.
As we pan around a little bit further, you`ll be able to see all
around, 360 degrees around where I`m standing, all the homes literally
leveled to the ground. Again, right now, very chaotic scene, people just
trying to search through a lot of these homes.
Honestly, it`s a search and rescue operation out here for a lot of
folks, if they have loved ones, if they have friends, if they haven`t heard
from them, they`re looking around to try to find out if their family
members are still alive. It`s really indescribable.
When you look around, there is nowhere y can look out here that you
don`t see damage and destruction. Again, right now we`re in the front of
the corner here, at the front end of Plaza Towers Elementary, we have been
talking a lot about that school.
Again, total devastation out here, absolutely, there`s no other way to
say it that I can think of, total devastation out here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: That`s the scene just moments ago outside Plaza Towers
Elementary School. We are still at this moment awaiting confirmation on
what the ultimate fate of students as young as kindergarten to third grade
was there. We know that kindergartners through third graders were
sheltered within the school. We have confirmation that the fourth, fifth
and sixth great classes were safely removed and accounted for.
We are awaiting further word and confirmation and hoping that the
absolute worst fears are not realize, although at this point, it is hard to
say that the situation looks particularly promising as search and recovery
groups are sorting through the rubble.
Joining me now, meteorologist Paul Douglas, founder of Weather Nation
And, Paul, can you just explain and describe to me what an EF-4 or 5
tornado is, what does that even mean?
PAUL DOUGLAS, WEATHER NATION TV: I think in the movie "Twister",
Chris, they actually summed it up the best. It`s the finger of God. It`s
Three to six minutes, winds 200 miles an hour. As somebody explained
to me, it`s not the tornado that kills you. It`s what`s in the tornado.
It`s basically a landfill, debris, everything imaginable suspended in
the air with winds gusting anywhere from 160 to 200 miles an hour. And I
want to point out, I have certainly been following this carefully
throughout the afternoon, if you don`t have an underground shelter, if you
do not have access to a basement and fewer than one in 10 Oklahomans have
access to basements because of bedrock. It`s just cost prohibitive to put
in a basement across much of the Oklahoma City metro area. Ground zero of
Tornado Alley and most people don`t have basements.
And if it`s an EF-4 and EF-5, your odds of survival, unless you can
get into a basement is something less than 50/50.
This afternoon, some of the meteorologists on the local radio stations
did something very unusual, but I think they saved a lot of lives. They
went on the air and said, look, if you don`t have a basement, you may not
survive this tornado. If you have a vehicle, get in your vehicle and drive
away from Moore as fast as you can. And I sure hope that a lot of heeded
But we`re going to see more of this as the suburbs expand. And I have
to tell you -- I was at a severe weather conference last year, Chris, and a
guy by the name of Tim Marshall who is a well-respected meteorologist and
structural engineer, he stood up and gave a presentation, and he said,
within our lifetime, a single U.S. tornado is going to leave behind 1,000
fatalities in the United States. There will be congressional inquiries,
how could this happen and why weren`t we prepared.
And it`s just simply a function of land use. As the suburbs expand,
these big tornadoes that used to hit farmland are now hitting subdivision
and we`re seeing this more and more.
HAYES: Denser and dense more densely populated areas. In terms of
the interaction between the architecture and engineering of the structures
and the storm itself, what I`m hearing from you is that essentially, the
power of this is so anomalous, so extreme, that the normal precaution that
are taken, even of people have built into their homes structure in the
internal part of the house that are concrete, reinforced, even large
buildings, public buildings that might have those kinds of shelters
internally, that it`s just not enough to stand up to the sheer force when
you`re dealing with the storm as powerful as what we saw blew through the
Oklahoma City area today.
DOUGLAS: You are absolutely, Chris. With the exception of hurricane
alley, most U.S. homes are built to withstand 90-mile-an-hour wind gusts.
It`s CMU, concrete masonry unit construction, basically, hollow cinder
blacks. They fail very quickly.
Today the winds were possibly 200 miles an hour. Possibly, this is
probably going to be the most destructive tornado to ever hit the United
States. The last time Moore was hit and Moore has been hit four times in
the last 15 years. But of course, the big one back in `99, the winds on a
portable Doppler radar were estimated at 316 miles an hour. Now that was a
few hundred yards above the ground, that it was two miles away from F-6
strength. There has never been a confirmed F-6 tornado. But back in `99,
we came very, very close.
And this tornado certainly took a path that took --
HAYES: Paul, I`m going to jump in just for a second.
DOUGLAS: And even more heavily populated area.
HAYES: We`re going to just dip in to the coverage from our local
affiliate KFOR which we believe I think has a chopper up right now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It could be Briarwood.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is that Briarwood school? Could that be
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, Briarwood, I`m sorry. I misspoke.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That`s all right. I`d just want to be clear.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But keep in mind, John lives not far from this
devastation. In fact, if you`re just now joining us here, just a little
bit after the 7:00 hour, John had to call his family and make sure they
were in their safe room because it went just a few blocks from his house.
We`re going to be checking back with John here in a moment.
We want to go to Meg Alexander. Meg was on the scene of a tragic
situation, workers trying frantically to rescue a mother and a baby and
others trapped in some rubble there. She`s joining us now live with more
on what`s happening where she is right now.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Meg?
HAYES: All right. We are live here in New York covering closely and
monitoring the situation the Oklahoma situation, the suburb of Oklahoma
City, Moore, Oklahoma, absolutely devastated by what appears to be at the
very moment possibly the most powerful tornado in recorded history,
certainly up to the top tier, but possibly the most powerful.
We are awaiting confirmation reports of some of the fatalities. We
have I believe at this moment, ten confirmed fatalities and are fearing
there may be more, as we learn more.
As we have Paul Douglas from the Weather Nation on the line. We also
have Bill Bunting from the NOAA Storm Prediction Center.
And, Bill, I want you to tell me what the prediction is in the short-
term for the folks in this area because my sense as recently as just a few
hours ago, is that there were still active tornadoes and storms still
happening in the area?
BUJNTING: And that`s a great point. This is still an ongoing severe
weather event, tornado warnings were in effect within the past few minutes,
really from central Texas through southern and eastern Oklahoma, up into
portions of the Central Plains. And this is going to continue through the
evening, the threat of tornadoes, damaging winds will continue.
And, unfortunately, this is not over today and tonight. Again
tomorrow, from Texas up through the Mississippi and Ohio Valley, and even
as we go into midweek, a little bit farther east. So, this is a storm
system that will leave quite a legacy and it`s not over yet.
HAYES: Paul, can you -- and maybe, Bill, you can help here as well.
And this is -- I`m going to admit a real basic question, but I would love
for you to explain it to me. What are the physics that produce a tornado?
I mean, what happens that makes something this powerful and why does it
happen routinely, regularly at the same time of the year in the same places
in the continental United States?
DOUGLAS: The simplistic answer and there is no simple answer, Chris,
is that you need clashing air masses. That`s the overarching theme. Cold
air approaching from the north and west, the supply of warm and moist from
the Gulf of Mexico.
But what you really need is severe instability, low-level moisture and
wind shear, winds changing direction and speed as you rise up through the
atmosphere. And when that happens, horizontal wind shear can get stretch
and this explosive super cells, these are the storms that look like small
thermonuclear explosions, where the air is going straight up at about 100
miles an hour.
And that can literally stretch this spinning tube of air about a
vertical axis and that`s how the tornado begins to form. Tornado genesis
still not totally understood. A number of dynamics have to happen.
HAYES: We do know, I mean, there is a seasonality here. It is not an
accident that this -- the last terrible tornado near this magnitude in the
exact same suburb of Oklahoma City happened also in May in 1999.
DOUGLAS: Absolutely. And May is the peak month, typically May, the
United States sees about 275 tornadoes.
You know, we have been a little complacent up until the last week or
two. It has been incredibly quiet because the jet stream has been so
erratic, it`s been so chilly east of the Rockies, that put a damper on the
tornadoes and it`s just in the last new days come back with a vengeance,
but I do want to stick up for the National Weather Service, and
specifically the Storm Prediction Center, we have the best weather service
in the world. Maybe I`m a little biased. But today, SPC had a moderate
HAYES: Paul, let me interrupt you for a second. I`m sorry, we have
some breaking news I want to bring to the viewers.
HAYES: Oklahoma Chief Medical Examiner`s Office tells NBC News, there
are at least 37 fatalities from today`s tornadoes. No further details
available at this time. No info on what the breakdown that is, where the
victims were recovered from, but 37 confirmed fatalities from the Oklahoma
medical examiner to NBC News.
I want to bring in Scott Hines. He`s a reporter for KFOR TV in
And, Scott, I want you tell me what the latest is there as coming up
on dusk and darkness descending, what the status of rescue efforts if there
are ongoing rescue efforts at this moment, or whether there`s a sense that
this is now in a recovery mode?
SCOTT HINES, KFOR TV (via telephone): Yes, it`s not good. We`re
hearing more and more that the search and rescue missions are now shifting
to a recovery mode. Specifically at this elementary school, there are
several elementary schools that took a direct hit. Specifically one by the
name of Plaza Towers, and that`s where 75 students and faculty took shelter
from the tornado. That school was, as you can see in the pictures,
leveled, wiped to the foundation.
We witnessed, crews witnessed, rescuers pulling children that were
trapped beneath the debris. We know that there was a third grade class.
There was a hallway and in that hallway, it`s obliterated and those
children, that third grade class, they seek refuge there in that hallway
and we`re hearing that at least 24 children may still be in that rubble.
It appears that seven children, we`re hearing from rescuers that they
were found dead, that they had been at the bottom, I guess and submerged in
water and that they had likely drowned. So now, it`s more of a recovery
mission and there could be 20 to 30 more little victims there.
At least this is probably within the past half an hour, we had 30
confirmed deaths that were being reported by the state medical examiner.
Four of those, another colleague of mine and she was on the scene within
moments of arriving on scene and she witnessed the first responders pulling
out a family. There was -- I get a little choked up thinking about it.
But there was -- there was a 7-month-old baby and that child, that baby`s
moth and then there were two others, a man and a woman.
And they were, I guess, running for their lives and there was a large
freezer, they were trying to -- they were trying to seek shelter wherever
they could and they just couldn`t make it to that freezer in time and they
never made it.
So, we`re hearing stories of heroism at that school. There are
reports that six children or the teachers there were using their bodies as
human shields covering the children. Six of those children, we`re told, in
one instance, they survived, but the teacher, that her condition is
critical and it`s not likely that she`s going to make it.
So, those stories are starting to surface. And I would say that folks
are, you know, we see this all the time, we see the tornadoes, the hail,
the severe weather, it`s nothing new for this region. But this, whatever
this is, this is something -- this is a first for us. Not even May 3rd,
1999. And this was -- this took a similar track.
And that happened much later on in the day. This happened much
earlier. And so, many of these families were separated. The parents
weren`t with their children, they were at schools.
At that one school, I think fourth, fifth and sixth graders were
bussed off within minutes of the tornado of hitting the school. But then
these other children, they didn`t have time to evacuate. And so, they
And this was one of those tornadoes where if you didn`t seek shelter
below ground or in a tornado shelter, then your chances of surviving slim
to none. I mean really bad.
I mean, cars were thrown like rag dolls, toys, homes are in rubble.
It`s just -- I have never seen anything like it. It`s insane.
HAYES: And, Scott, my understanding and I like to let me know if this
is correct, it seems that if you`re running the school at that point, it is
rare to have a tornado during the day, the schools were facing something of
a strange situation and a really difficult call about what to do with the
children there because sending them home to homes that don`t have basements
themselves or might not have internal concrete re-enforced rooms in which
to shelter in place, getting busses on the road. It was a difficult if not
impossible situation for the administrators of these schools presumably as
this storm was bearing down on them.
HINES: Yes, and it`s one that unless you`re -- I mean, you can go
through the steps and you can conduct your drills, but until you live
through it, you really don`t know what you`re dealing with. And this was
just a different animal, like a different monster, a beast.
And I know that an e-mail was sent out the parents, I`m not sure
exactly how we got our hands on this e-mail, I`m not sure when it was sent
out, but it was alerting them that many of those children, that they were
going to they have safe spot within the school.
So I know there was some sort of communication that was attempted to
reach these parents. But right now, it`s just -- unless you`re texting
someone, it`s near impossible to get in touch with anyone in the Moore area
and the phone systems are clogged. There`s phone tours that are down, and
as you mentioned, we`re upon dusk and now it seems as if this search and
rescue mission is shifting to recovery now, and 11 dead and that number is
only going to continue to grow, you know, tonight and tomorrow, I presume.
HAYES: Scott, for folks that are watching from across the nation
right now and I think uniformly, absolutely, gut-wrenching news coming out
of Moore and real empathy and sadness about the possible specter of the
fate, particularly of the children at the elementary school that you
mentioned. What kind of place is Moore? Tell us what the character of the
area is and folks obviously have been through this kind of trauma before,
14 years ago, although this is on an unprecedented magnitude.
What kind of place is it?
HINES: You know, it`s -- you know, they talk about the Oklahoma
spirit. And this is a place that`s been hit time and again, and they have
been knocked to their knees. But each time, you know, the community of
Moore, the citizens of Oklahoma have come together, they have helped pick
each other up.
They have helped rebuild and this instance is, I mean, is no
different. You know, we`ll do the same. It`s in our blood. It`s in our
And, you know, Moore is situated just directly south of Oklahoma City.
It`s a suburb. And for whatever reason, it`s right there in the bull`s-eye
of what we have coined the Tornado Alley. And so we`re a resilient bunch.
And I know for a fact. I have friends who reside in Moore, who live there.
I have one buddy whose daughters attend one of the elementary schools that
was hit. And -- and he was bawling and beside himself because he couldn`t
get in touch with them.
But folks are finally starting to connect with their loved ones and to
their friends. I think that -- I don`t think it`s really the magnitude of
what`s happened, the severity of what`s unfolded. I don`t think it`s sunk
in yet for any of us. We`re just kind of going on adrenaline. But we
experienced this with the bombing back in 1995. We`re a resilient bunch.
I don`t know what to say. We`ll survive and we`ll come out of this even
stronger, I have no doubt.
HAYES: Scott Heinze of K-4, I can`t thank you enough for joining us
on this night. And stay safe and good luck to you.
HEINZE: My pleasure.
HAYES: All right, let`s bring in MSNBC`s Melissa Rehberger, who
covered the 1999 tornado in Moore, Oklahoma. Melissa, this is something
that folks in the area are accustomed to, at least tornadoes nowhere near
as severe as this, but that is a regular facet of life. And there are
habits and protocols and policies in place to deal with them. And then
there are some that come that just are too much for any of those protocols
MELISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely true. This is
reality. This is life in Oklahoma. They know it well. They are very
diligent and as you just mentioned, very, very resilient people. But as,
of course, in life, they have weather radios. They have apps on their
phone where they track the weather. They constantly listen to their
meteorologists, who are experts in the their field and are extremely
responsible in their reporting, as I`m sure you have noticed.
But when it comes to something like this, if you can`t hide under the
ground, your chances are slim to none. And I was so surprised. I know he
did the right thing, but you never hear meteorologists saying get in your
car and drive away. They`re always saying, get out of the car and hide in
the innermost portion of your home. That goes to show how frightened he
was for all of these people, because he knows they don`t have basements.
He knows they don`t have storm shelters. He knows that hiding in the hall
closet is not going to work this time.
So telling people to get in their cars in a situation where he knows
that trucks will be flung about like Matchbox cars really speaks volumes
about what he knew this storm to be.
HAYES: We are awaiting word, as you might see there on the screen.
There appears to be a press conference that`s planned from an Oklahoma
officials to give us the latest.
If you are just joining us right now, we are tracking the aftermath of
what has been described as possibly the most powerful tornado ever to touch
down in the United States, in Moore, Oklahoma, a suburb outside Oklahoma
City. We have 37 confirmed fatalities, as of now. NBC News learning that
directly from the medical examiner of Oklahoma.
There is intense, intense, gut wrenching worry that as many as two
dozen elementary school students who were in a -- the Plaza Towers
Elementary School in Moore, and were trapped in the rubble -- that as many
as two dozen of them may be in there and not have survived. We are
awaiting firm confirmation on that, but reporters on the seem have
described a search and rescue operation transitioning to a search and
What you are seeing there on the left is footage from earlier today of
first responders sifting through the rubble at that school. And you can
see that it has been completely and totally reduced to rubble. It has been
raised, half the building completely gone.
And there is now -- we are awaiting word and confirmation from what
the latest is there, but we do have 37 confirmed fatalities. This is
coming -- Melissa, this is coming after a week of a whole bevy of storms
that have just pummeled the area and even earlier today, word of more that
might be coming down the line.
REHBERGER: Absolutely true. And it`s because the conditions are ripe
for natures. You very rarely see one hit. It`s always several. And it`s
because it`s the perfect concoction up there in the sky. The good news is,
unlike the May 3rd tornado in 1999, that happened at night. And it was so
enormous like this one that people really couldn`t see it coming. It
looked like a big rain cloud and people didn`t realize that there was a
tornado inside all of that.
Today, people had the benefit of it being daylight. They had the
benefit of hopefully a lot of people who live in Moore were at work outside
of Moore and are therefore safe, but have no idea if their homes still
exist. And the scary part of all of this is you don`t know who was home,
who was not. Is there an elderly person in Moore who tried to hide and is
now buried in rubble? It`s a situation where neighbors don`t have the
opportunity to check on their neighbors, as they normally would.
And with searchers coming in from all over, as many as there are, they
have to be very careful about how they go about going through this rubble,
with the many dangers that lie inside. There is a very good chance that
people who are buried and still alive are going to have to wait. And
they`re running out of daylight and the whole thing is just very, very
scary. And they have no way of knowing who`s out there.
HAYES: Is there an infrastructure in place to deal with first
response under these conditions?
REHBERGER: Well, It`s a challenge because in -- like human nature,
Oklahomans are running from all points to help in this effort. So you have
people from different cities and different towns coming in to help in the
search effort. Somebody has to coordinate all those people. So you have
to set up an infrastructure, you know, and a command center. And then you
have to figure out how to focus those efforts.
Obviously, the school was their main priority. And they had to focus
almost all of their attention on that initially. You`ll see them branch
out now and try and find evidence of other people elsewhere. But that is
going to be a long process.
HAYES: Yes. How did this community respond in 1999? I believe you
covered that directly.
REHBERGER: I sure did. And you know what? They`re just such
wonderful, warm, resilient people. Oklahomans are a really powerful bunch.
In the coming days, you`ll hear terrible stories. It`s just so very sad.
But you`ll also start hearing stories about strangers helping strangers.
If their home was saved, you`ll hear stories about people taking people
they don`t know in, and giving them shelter and food and taking care of
You`ll hear stories about local businesses just driving up with warm
meals and water for people who are volunteering and people who are working
there. You will hear kind stories about who is staying in the shelters and
that they`re taking pets inside as well. You`ll hear stories about people
who had debris land on their property, and may pick up a personal picture,
a family photo, a yearbook. And you`ll hear things like they`ll start
setting up databases, so people who have lost everything might just find a
personal item that is dear to them, thanks to the kindness of a considerate
HAYES: MSNBC`s Melissa Rehberger, we are awaiting right now a news
conference from Oklahoma governor and public official about the aftermath
of the massive, destructive tornado that touched down today in Moore,
Oklahoma. We are going to hopefully have that very shortly. Before that,
we are going to take a quick break.
Stay with us for live coverage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I had to hold on to the wall to keep myself
safe, because I didn`t want to fly away in the tornado.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had to pull a car out of the front hallway, off
a teacher. And she -- I don`t know what that lady`s name is, but she had
three little kids underneath her. Good job, teach. You can see it ripped
my house up. I still got a little girl buried in there, so I got to go.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Some really wrenching footage out of Moore, Oklahoma, where we
have 37 confirmed fatalities from the medical examiner in Oklahoma. We`re
awaiting a press conference from the Oklahoma governor, Mary Fallin, and
officials as well. The president, we have learned, have through FEMA and
the Department of Homeland Security, been in touch with local officials, as
they seek to mobilize recovery in an area that has gone through just the
most devastating tornado in recent memory and possibly ever.
And Paul, you said something before -- Paul Douglas of Weather Nation
TV, you said something before about the hazard in this situation is what
gets sucked up in the tornado and thrown around. What does it do to an
area when a tornado like this hits it? Maybe that`s an obvious question,
which is that it destroys it. But what does it do -- can you walk me
through what that looks like and feels like?
DOUGLAS: I think the only thing I could liken it to is a lawn mower
that`s one to two miles wide coming through your neighborhood. Again, just
everything rotating 160, 200 miles an hour. And even a little pebble, a
nail hitting you at 180 miles an hour becomes a projectile, much like a
bullet. So that`s why they say you have to get under ground.
And that`s a real problem across much of Oklahoma, across much of the
Plains States, where it`s cost prohibitive to dig basements, to excavate.
You literally need dynamite to put in a basement or a tornado shelter.
HAYES: And that`s because of the bedrock upon which it sits?
DOUGLAS: Yes, exactly. But I tell people, you know, multiple safety
nets. The more sources of information that you have, media, sirens, NOAA
weather radio, apps on your smartphone -- the more sources of information,
the greater the odds you will get that alert in time to actually do
something about it.
And a lot of people are putting safe rooms into their homes. Even if
you don`t have a basement, for a couple thousand bucks, you can convert a
closet, even your garage into an area that can survive an EF-3, 4 or 5
tornado. You don`t have to spend huge money.
HAYES: My understanding from the devastation we`re seeing right now
is precisely that, even safe rooms were no match for the sheer force of
what came through that area.
DOUGLAS: I tell you what, you know, given my druthers, I`d still
rather be in a basement. But if I didn`t have that option and I could
spend a couple thousand bucks on a concrete and steel re-enforced closet
safe room, I still think that would be the best place to possibly ride out
a storm, if you can`t get underground.
HAYES: Bill Bunting of the NOAA Storm Prediction Center, what were
you at NOAA thinking as you watched, as you tracked this? And how
carefully are you able to? You said there`s a certainly amount of chaos at
play. You can`t know exactly where it`s going. How narrowly can you
predict its path?
BUNTING: We had issued a tornado watch about two hours before the
touchdown, the initial touchdown there, just west of Moore. We certainly
knew the conditions were becoming more favorable, along and east of a dry
line that`s often the focal point of severe storms here in Oklahoma.
But until the storm actually forms and you see where it`s setting up,
you really can`t say precisely what areas are going to be impacted and how
strong that tornado is going to be. Meteorologist is a science. And
certainly the Severe Weather Warning System in the United States has come a
long way since its inception in the `50s. But we still have a lot to
learn. And unfortunately today is a reminder not only of how well the well
the warning system can work, but of the natural limitations of saying, very
far into the future, what areas are going to be hit and how strong will the
storm be when it gets there.
HAYES: Melissa mentioned earlier that it is incredibly rare for a
meteorologist to take to the television -- Paul, I think, mentioned this
earlier as well -- to take to the television and say, you know, if you`re
watching this right now, get in your car and step on the gas and drive in
the opposite direction of this thing, and get out of town. Why is that
such a rare call and why was that call made today?
BUNTING: I think in most cases, a tornado with lower wind speeds, you
would probably be OK in a well built structure, especially if you were in a
center room on the lowest floor, away from windows and exterior walls.
With a tornado like today, if you`re aboveground and you`re in the path,
you just can`t guarantee safety. So when the tornado began to develop and
took on the size and the strength that it obviously was taking on, I think
a meteorologist knew that anybody in the path was going to be in some
degree of danger. And the best thing to do, if you couldn`t get
underground, would be to get quickly get out of that path.
That`s where, again, the warning system comes down to advance notice.
The more lead time we can give folks, the more time they have to get into a
protective place and to be safe.
HAYES: You`re saying today there was about two hours of lead time.
DOUGLAS: On the tornado watch, which covers a large area. The actual
tornado warning, as I understand it, 16 minutes until initial touchdown,
about a half-hour lead time for folks in Moore.
HAYES: Oh, my, that`s not much.
DOUGLAS: -- as much as we could provide, given our current system.
HAYES: But that`s not much time at all, if you`re talking about 16
minutes or even a half an hour to -- and we`re talking about folks needing
to get out of where they are. And that probably explains some of the
numbers we`re hearing and some of the images of total devastation that
you`re seeing on your screen, as we show some images from earlier today.
And folks now returning to try to make sense of this. Melissa, how do
people deal with this? Are there -- are they insured for this? Are they
able to kind of go in -- in 1999, when there was a storm of near but not
quite equal magnitude, what is the safety net that folks have if you`re
coming back to a structure that was your one asset, the place you lived,
the place that you had all your things, and you`re returning to it in the
dusk on the most terrible day that you have seen in 15 years or maybe your
life? What does tomorrow look like for those folks? What are the safety
nets in place for them?
REHBERGER: Well, the city and the country will take care of them.
They will have city shelters if they really need it. If they need it, they
will have -- you know, if they lost their cell phones, they`ll provide
telephones. They`ll provide clothing if they need them.
As far as the insurance, I was talking about that with somebody else
earlier. It`s a very good question. I would imagine it`s kind of like
living in a flood plain, where you are required to have flood insurance.
If you live in Tornado Alley, I would simply imagine that you have to have
the proper insurance. What that covers, what it does, I don`t really know.
And to be honest with you, from 1999, I`m not sure if they received
aid, federal aid or state aid. I simply cannot recall. However I do
believe that they`re already saying, we will rebuild and I believe they
HAYES: Representative Tom Cole, who is from the Fourth Congressional
District in Oklahoma, was on with my colleague Chris Matthews earlier
today, talking a little bit about that. And I thought, you know, he just
made a really incredible point. He is a Republican who did vote for Sandy
aid, and said when he cast that vote, he did it in full awareness that the
nature of the social contract that we have between people who live in
different areas of this massive country, that go through all sorts of
different weather events -- that the nature of the social contract we have
for each other is that we get each other`s back.
And he voted for the Sandy aid, he said, knowing that we are just one
tornado away from being Joplin. And of course, that was quite prescient,
as we are seeing the images from his district today. I imagine we are
going to see federal resources mobilized, not just immediately in terms of
FEMA, in terms of aid with the rescue and recovery, but we will probably
see an emergency package start to move through Washington very shortly.
Let`s go to Mike Bettes of the Weather Channel, who is on the scene in
Moore, Oklahoma. And mike, what are you seeing?
MIKE BETTES, THE WEATHER CHANNEL: Well, it`s just one of those scenes
that it is devastating right now. You know, you look at what`s going on
here in Moore and you look behind us here, and this town has just been
mowed down. It is one of those scenes that we don`t see all that often.
Maybe you see this in something like Joplin, Missouri, two years ago. And
we know what the scene was there.
This is a neighborhood that has well built homes. These are brick
homes, framed homes. And so the problem with this is that we have search
and rescue here, the city of Oklahoma City, that has to go through house by
house by house and see if they can find any survivor, see if they can find
any bodies. This is going to be a grim scene, we believe.
We know this: the medical examiner from Oklahoma City already, just
hours into this event, has already confirmed 37 fatalities. And I`m going
to show you something that I thought was quite stunning. Look another this
home. This is the driveway. This home does not even exist anymore. In
fact, there`s a car on top of the home. There`s an I-beam right there that
came a couple of blacks away from a school over there.
But I want you to look down in here. This is their storm shelter.
They jammed six people down in there, their animals down in there. And
they all made it out OK. I mean stunning. You had to be under ground in
order to survive this tornado. And a gentleman that was actually in that
storm shelter joining us now. Your name again, sir?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gerald Mobley (ph)
BETTES: Gerald, thanks for talking with us this evening. What was
that moment like when this tornado came through?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can`t describe it. I mean, all the wind just
got sucked out. The trees became still and then it was just mass chaos.
The water was basically being sucked through the seams of the shelter.
Most of the mud on me is from being in.
BETTES: How long were you in there before that tornado hit?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We saw the debris cloud as it was probably hitting
the family farm barn in that area. But when we saw the debris cloud, we
got in there.
BETTES: All in a matter of minutes?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Within probably two minutes after we got in there,
the lid was shaking and everything just felt like it was being sucked in.
BETTES: After the tornado passes, you literally have to dig yourself
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were able to slide -- it`s got a chain that
locks the door closed and you have to lock it from the inside. When the
tornado hit, it pushed the door into a position where the chain was jammed.
So we were able to slide it forward, get it undone, and then we were able
to get our hands up and start pushing stuff off.
BETTES: Gerald, when you came out of your shelter and you saw all of
this, what was going through your mind?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where to begin. I mean, it`s like the beginning
of the end.
My wife and I, we have worked hard for everything we have. And we
just now paid off our house. We were no debt free, had no house payment.
We were supposed to go tomorrow to sign papers on land to build a new
house. And that house was collateral for the land purchase. So now we`re
in a position of which direction do we go?
BETTES: Do you have a place to stay tonight?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My daughter`s flying back in from Florida right
now. That`s her black car up there on top of the pile. She just got it
fixed last week from the hail damage.
BETTES: How long have you lived here, Gerald?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I lived in this addition for 11 years. This is
the third one coming through here.
BETTES: We know this city, in particular, has a history of violent
tornadoes. In 1999, a tornado came right through this town. Folks here
are very cognizant of weather. But when you see something like this, does
it give you perspective on certain things.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: May 3rd of `99 is the one you`re I`m sure going
back to, the F05. We were affected by it also. It missed -- the center of
it actually missed our house by about three quarters of a mile, decided to
make a left hand turn. But we saw the devastation from it. I was hoping
that I would never personally have to be in this position. And
unfortunately, this is where we`re at.
BETTES: Everyone in your family is OK?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody`s fine. We did lose three animals.
Human lives, everybody`s there.
BETTES: Gerald, we really appreciate you taking the time to talk to
us and excellent perspective. You know, a lot of folks that go through
situations like this have a hard time coping with what has happened, as you
What we can tell you this evening are a couple things that we know.
Some elementary schools have been hit. There is one off in the distance -
we`re shooting back in the sunshine, but I hope you can see there`s a
school back there. This is Briarwood elementary. It took a direct hit
from the tornado.
We spoke to a schoolteacher there. The schoolteacher tells us that
everyone, faculty and students, are accounted for. But search and rescue
will be ongoing at that school through the night. Firefighters are already
there, ambulances are on hand. And they`re just setting up a command post
We know that another elementary school -- in fact, two more elementary
schools were hit, one that is about a mile behind me here off to the north
and east. That is Tower Plaza Elementary School. It took a direct hit as
well. What we know about that school is this: at least a half a dozen
school children drowned in that school. They were in the basement and it
filled with water and they unfortunately drowned.
We also are now hearing from our affiliate, KFOR, that as many as 30
school children are now unaccounted for and potentially have perished. We
know that the city medical examiner has confirmed 37 fatalities in all.
They`re only just a couple of hours into this. But certainly when you see
the scene behind us here, you know that something very devastating has been
happened. The only other time that I have personally witnessed damage like
this is when we were in Joplin, Missouri, two years ago. It was May 2011.
And 161 people lost their life in that tornado.
And we fear that this may come very close if not exceed that tornado.
HAYES: Mike, the images there are just absolutely overwhelming. My
question for you, do we have a sense of how many homes total are in the
path of this? I mean, as you -- I mean, the camera on you right now, if it
can pan around again? I mean, it just seems like the -- it`s just complete
I`m having a had time getting my head around what -- how wide a swathe
of area, how many homes we`re talking about that now look like this?
BETTES: Well, it`s -- you know, it`s one of those situations where,
you know, everywhere you look, you know, you could be looking at tornado
damage. It`s -- we`re with our tornado expert at the Weather Channel, Dr.
Greg Forbes. And Dr. Forbes, kind of the question is, how big is this
tornado? How far did it go? What is your sense?
DR. GREGG FORBES, THE WEATHER CHANNEL: My sense here of the total
destruction is that it`s about three blocks of this subdivision`s
neighborhood. So it`s probably about a quarter mile wide of total
destruction. We were down a little bit to -- on the south edge of the
tornado. There most of the houses are still inhabitable. There`s some
damage, but that`s probably about a half-mile wide in addition. And
there`s probably about quarter-mile wide that we haven`t gotten to, that`s
weaker, up on the north edge of the tornado.
So I`m think it`s probably edge EF-0 to soft edge EF-0, probably at
least a mile wide. And a real core here that`s F-4 or F-5 is probably
about a quarter to maybe three eighths of a mile.
BETTES: To give viewers at home a perspective on Dr. Forbes`
expertise, his expertise is storm damage surveys. He has done them for
decades. He likely is the one man that has done more than any other human
on the planet. You have seen EF-5 damage before, Dr. Forbes. Is there any
question in your mind that the wind speeds here don`t meet the criteria of
200-plus mile per hour winds?
FORBES: I`m absolutely convinced now. And we have seen over -- just
the next building over, a huge white tank -- it must weigh many tons --
we`ve been asking what that is. I`ve found the answer. It was part of an
oil arrangement. It flew in for a half mile. That kind of a large missile
flying a half mile, that is pretty much unprecedented. That -- as long as
the National Weather Service finds that, that is going to get it in the EF-
BETTES: We`re looking at that now, Dr. Forbes. For some people`s
perspective, that`s probably about roughly the size of a mobile home or so.
FORBES: Yes, it`s the size of a mobile home, but it`s sheet metal.
It`s big metal there, thick. I would guess that that`s going to be half-
inch to maybe three-inch thick. So it is really dense, really heavy.
That`s not going to fly through the air very easily.
BETTES: Dr. Forbes, thank you very much. Truly the words preeminent
expert in tornado damage. If anyone knows what this tornado did, it is Dr.
There was another thing I wanted to show you over our shoulder here,
if you look off in the distance there. There`s a tree over there. It`s
been debarked. There`s no bark left on the tree. There`s no leaves,
hardly any branches left. And a giant piece of plywood was thrown through
the air and basically that tree stabbed it. You see things that just stun
you, that just don`t seem like they should happen.
And right here at this property, you`ve got a car that`s up on a
house. You have a truck -- this is a pick-up truck right here on top of
another vehicle. Things that just don`t seem to make sense, that`s for
sure. So we will be here through the evening, through the morning. We`ll
have more reports for you.
But what we can confirm for you right now is that 37 people have
perished already in this tornado. That number is likely to go up.
HAYES: Mike Bettes, thank you for that incredible reporting and on
the scene, pictures from the Weather Channel. Thank you.
I also want to thank MSNBC`s Melissa Rehberger, Bill Bunting of NOAA
and Paul Douglas of Weather Nation TV.
Our coverage of the tornado disaster in Moore, Oklahoma, continues.
"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts now. Good evening, Rachel.
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