The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 05/20/13
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you.
And we`re going to continue now with the scene unfolding this evening
outside Oklahoma City. This, of course, is a part of a country that is no
stranger to severe weather, especially at this time of year. But the
monster tornado that touched down in the suburbs south of Oklahoma City
this afternoon, appears to be of not just massive, but of likely historic
At this point, the latest death toll from the state medical examiner,
the last confirmed death toll that we have from the state medical examiner,
is 32 fatalities. There are some sources that are reporting higher
numbers. But at this point, we are confirming at least 37 people killed
with the state medical examiner saying that number is expected to rise.
This tornado today just outside of Oklahoma City was up to a mile
wide, was classified as one of the most violent categories on the five-part
steal that we have that measures the strength and dangerousness of
tornadoes, that scale goes from what`s called E-1, to E-5, with 5 being the
This storm is seen as either an E-4 or an E-5, likely an E-5.
The tornado in history that is recorded to have generated the
strongest winds ever recorded on earth is a tornado that also hit the same
area, that also hit Moore, Oklahoma, back in May 1999, 14 years ago this
month. That storm 14 years ago was reported to have winds of 302 miles per
hour, again the highest winds ever recorded on the planet.
Going to put that 300-mile-an-hour – those winds in perspective,
you`re talking about category 5 hurricane, the biggest hurricane that we
know of, those have winds of about half that speed.
But we do not yet know exactly how big and how fast the winds were in
today`s tornado outside Oklahoma City, we do know what happened in the
exact same place. We do not have exact measurements of its severity, but
reporters on scene, who have seen the wreckage of both today`s storm and
that huge historic storm 14 years ago, say that today`s storm caused damage
over an area of about three times the size of that historic storm back in
I said just moments ago that, at this point, our latest confirmed
death toll from the state medical examiner was 37. The confirmed death
toll now just in the last few minutes has been raised to at least 51
killed. At least 51 killed. The number of people who were injured badly
to be treated in hospitals already, is up to 120.
But, again, at least 51 killed so far in Oklahoma. That number
expected to rise, at least some of those killed – some of these confirmed
dead already are known to be kids who were pulled out of the Plaza Towers
Today`s tornado was on the ground in Moore, Oklahoma, for
approximately 40 minutes. It wiped out entire neighborhoods, including two
elementary schools that were still in session for the day. The students at
one of the schools which is called Briarwood Elementary are said to be
fully accounted for tonight.
But it is the other elementary school, Plaza Towers Elementary, where
we`re told that about 75 students and staff were at the school when the
tornado hit. Students in the fourth, fifth and sixth grades are reported
to be safe and accounted for. But the search continues at this hour right
now for the younger kids, for the kids in K through three, kindergarten
through third grades. Rescuers now looking through rubble that`s up to 10
REPORTER: Firefighters are standing on what is essentially a large
pile of debris, trying to find these kids that are hopefully still alive.
There`s a triage center that`s set up on what looks like it may have been a
basketball court at one point, and they`re using the doors and pieces of
plywood as stretchers to try to get victims out.
There were 75 people inside that building. In the hallway, which was
the secure place, the tornado shelter, if you will, but the walls are gone.
Cinder block walls that are eight inches thick and the roof is completely
gone. It basically just looks like it collapsed in on itself.
I did speak to a teacher, her name is Ronda (ph), sixth grade teacher
her. She is nothing short of a hero. She had six kids with her in the
bathroom. She laid on top of them as the storm rolled through, they`re all
Right now, still unaccounted for, kindergarten, first, second and
third graders. Still no word on those kids right now. Parents are just
now beginning to arrive.
REPORTER: The kids said they were actually told to go into the
hallways outside their classrooms and they were literally hugging the sides
of the walls as that tornado was overhead ripping the school apart.
REPORTER: It looks from my perspective that they`re communicating
with someone. If there is a victim under that rubble, they haven`t been
able to reach them yet, but it looks from this vantage point, like they may
be talking to someone trapped under the debris. There are probably 50
people right now on hands and knees pulling away boards and debris in hopes
of finding that person alive.
MADDOW: We will bring you more details on what is happening at Plaza
Towers Elementary School as we get them. This part of the country was
already partially in recovery mode because of a significant band of
tornadoes that stormed through the region yesterday, actually through a
wide swath of the country. At least a dozen tornadoes yesterday, from
Minnesota all the way down to Georgia. Two people were confirmed killed in
Shawnee, Oklahoma, in the storms yesterday.
Right now again, state medical examiner in Oklahoma saying the death
toll is 51. According to KFOR, which is the NBC affiliate in Oklahoma
City, of the 51 people confirmed dead, seven children from Plaza Tower
Elementary School, said of them are among those confirmed.
It was against the backdrop of yesterday`s tornadoes, already a
region, already a state that had signed a federal emergency state
declaration, already a state that was mourning its dead and digging out in
terms of damage, it`s against that backdrop today, that local news
organizations, in the region, including our own NBC affiliate KFOR, they
went to a very interest rolling coverage today and into tonight. I`ll tell
you that as our coverage continues this hour and through the night on
MSNBC, there will be times when KFOR will be on to something on the local
level and we will just without ceremony go back to their coverage because
their coverage has been so good and so on the spot.
Their coverage tonight was picked up nationwide for good reason as
people try to get the closest and best view of what was happening on the
scene as it was happening.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a mile wide debris cloud. It is a mile wide
wedge, violent tornado, the only way you will guarantee you will survive is
if you are out of the way, below ground, storm cellar or basement.
REPORTER: This thing is huge. Keep going left, Travis, keep going
left, right there, boom, there it is. There it is, Mike, on the ground,
REPORTER: It`s tracking right down 19th, approaching Santa Fe. We
had to bail out because it was coming right at us and we`re getting out.
Need to right turn south here at Moore South Moore High School.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You`ve got to act. You can`t think or delay.
You`ve got to act, and act to save your live and save your loved ones
lives. You`ve got to act.
REPORTER: Right there on the backside of the Warren Theater and you
have Lowe`s and that whole area right there. 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.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go, Emily.
REPORTER: Mike, we`re about to be in the path of this tornado. We`re
dropping south, major, major, major wedge on the ground.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whole Warren Theater area, I see a lot of very
heavy, heavy debris in the area that has plumed up in the past couple of
minutes from all the shopping areas, at the Warren Theater. No doubt there
is tremendous destruction at that location right now.
REPORTER: That tornado is physically on the ground, just destroying
power lines and everything in its way. As you can see, big power flashes
there, look at all that debris in the air. I mean, that debris, it`s 500,
or 600 feet up in the air and it`s going.
So, it`s still grinding, it`s still on the ground. As you can see
this thing hasn`t decreased in size any and I`m actually kind of getting a
little bit closer than I want to be right now. But this thing is suck us
in at about 50 or 60-mile-per-hour right now.
It actually looks like it`s decreased a little bit. We have lost a
lot of the debris, so it`s kind of changed the shape of it. It`s really
fizzling out as we`re seeing.
I`m doing another turn here. I`m getting kind of far away. It looks
like it`s roping out a little bit. And this is over like 149th Street and
maybe just the east side of Air Depot Road. There it is. It`s gone, Mike.
If you can see this, I don`t know to explain this, how to describe it,
this is terrible. This is war zone terrible.
This school is completely gone. It is like you see completely
destroyed, as kids run up to hopefully their loved ones. But this whole
area, guys, is – it`s completely destroyed.
MADDOW: That`s footage from over the course of this afternoon from
the NBC affiliate KFOR in Oklahoma City.
Search and rescue efforts in Moore, Oklahoma, are hampered tonight by
the difficulty of rescuers getting through the debris, the massive amounts
of debris, as well as things like downed power lines, damaged gas lines,
and, of course, the closed I-35 interstate.
First responders having to get through and navigate around, navigate
through all of that to try to get to the people who need rescuing. Again,
the confirmed death toll thus far from the state medical examiner is 51
people killed, among them, seven children from the Plaza Towers Elementary.
But state medical examiner says that the number of people killed in
this massive tornado is likely to rise. We have had reports since mid-
afternoon of Oklahoma hospitals treating more than 120 injured patients,
including about 70 kids, some of whose injuries are described as critical.
But, again, given the early stages, the ongoing stage of the search
and rescue operation, given the pictures we are seeing and the story we
have been reporting, it is too soon to say definitely what the final
casualty numbers are likely to look like. I`ll tell you one note about
some of this footage, in this hour we`re going to be talking to some of the
people that shot some of these video today.
One impact of the storm is now being felt far beyond the city of
Moore, Oklahoma, tonight. KFOR is reporting that the tornado also knocked
out the area`s water treatment plant. That`s the Draper Water Treatment
Plant. Because of that, residents across southeast Oklahoma are being told
not to drink the tap water because of that water processing plant being
There`s also the threat tonight of more thunderstorms in the region,
more possible tornadoes. The Red Cross says they`re waiting for the area
to be deemed safe before they open shelters. Based on what they have seen
so far from the pictures, they expect to deploy all of the Red Cross
vehicles that they have in that part of Oklahoma and they may be bringing
in more from Texas to supplement the resources available on scene.
The White House saying tonight that President Obama was notified of
the storm by an official at the Homeland Security Department and that he is
receiving updates from FEMA. The president has also called Oklahoma`s
governor, Mary Fallin, telling her that he has directed the federal
government and FEMA to provide any assistance that Oklahoma needs.
I want to bring now into the conversation, NBC News`s Janet Shamlian.
She is live on the ground in Moore, Oklahoma.
Janet, what can you tell us about the scene where you are tonight?
JANET SHAMLIAN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Rachel, what`s happening here
or what happened in Moore is actually paralyzing everything near or around
it. I want to show you the line here. Just to get to the front of the
line, to be denied entry into Moore, it`s about an hour proposition to go
about two miles on the small local roads from the highway. People are
talking about two and three-hour commutes just to get to this point, coming
home from work and then being turned away.
And you talk about trying to communicate. The usage of cell phones
has basically rendered them useless, or the usage rather has rendered
useless because you can`t get a signal in or out, even texting is
difficult. For the times when people need these most, they are not able to
Now, we`re told that the phone companies are coming in and setting up
special accommodation, but it`s just another example of the paralysis
that`s kind of become all around Moore as people try to get home. Some of
these people actually live in the community and are being turned away and
having to go out there.
MADDOW: I was just going to ask you about that, Janet, in terms of
who is trying to get in presumably, some of it is people wanting to help,
and local authorities on scene saying no, it is better for us to make do
with the resources that we have on scene, we can`t handle an influx. But,
you`re saying, there`s also people who live in the region who want to get
in and see their property and presumably check on what they owned and what
they know and they`re being turned away as well.
SHAMLIAN: It appears so. I mean, earlier today, the authorities were
actually hearing things on a case-by-case basis, if you will, as the cars
pulled up to the front of the line. Now, they`re just turning them away.
We have seen going in, dozens of sheriff`s troopers, ambulances,
police, power companies, as only two vehicles I have seen come out are two
ambulances, about an hour and a half ago now with their sirens blaring at
high speed and that was a hopeful sign for everyone here that maybe they
had found some survivors that they were taking to Oklahoma City hospital.
But, you know, they`re regulating access not just here, but at every
kind of intersection and it`s backed up all the way to the highway, which
is a couple of miles, Rachel.
MADDOW: Wow. NBC`s Janet Shamlian, and that live for us from Moore,
Oklahoma – Janet, I know we`ll be checking in with you again. Thank you
very, very much.
I want to bring in Oklahoma`s Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb.
Mr. Lieutenant Governor, thank you so much for joining us this
evening. And I`m so sorry for your loss and what your state is going
through right now.
LT. GOV. TODD LAMB (R), OKLAHOMA: Rachel, thanks for those words.
It`s pure devastation. It`s horrific, the death toll right now with 51 and
I expect that to climb throughout the evening.
We have got a little bit of daylight left, the search and rescue is
on, and the entire community of Moore, Oklahoma, and part of Oklahoma City,
our eyes and hearts are there of course. But right now, we`ll be focusing
on one of those schools that was hit in the walls that have pancaked in on
children and their bodies and rescue recovery effort`s ongoing right now.
MADDOW: Mr. Lieutenant Governor, in terms of that rescue scene,
there`s probably going to be rescue efforts all over the devastated region.
We know this tornado hit over a large area, but focusing specifically on
that elementary school, I`m presuming by virtue of the fact that they`re
not letting anybody else into the scene, that they have all the resources
that they need, that they have what they feel like they need to help
maximize the chances of getting any more kids out there alive?
LAMB: You`re directing the equipment there, personnel, qualified
trained personnel, as well as volunteer, the fire chief just made a public
announcement, we have all the volunteers we need on site, but specifically
at the school and the canines are there, the volunteers are there and
they`re doing everything they can do to find children alive at this moment.
MADDOW: In the terms of the ongoing public safety concerns, the
rescue efforts to try to get people who may be trapped. Are there also
ongoing concerns in terms of things like busted gas lines or power lines
being down that may still be live, ongoing threats to life and limb on the
LAMB: You`re exactly right. And that`s the challenge, that`s the
balance of the challenge you have to strike right now, and that people want
to find their loved ones, people want to look at their properties, people
want to go and they want to help and they want to volunteer, but the power
lines are down, much of that electricity and that voltage is gone, but
there are some power lines that are downed that are so hot, that are
active. Gas lines are exposed, they`re leaking. Some fires have just
erupted since the tornadoes came through around 3:00 p.m. So it`s still a
And to kind of put that into further perspective, we`re still in the
thunderstorm watch in the Oklahoma county area and there`s three counties
throughout the state of Oklahoma that are on tornado warnings right now.
So, it`s far from over.
But the rescue/recovery effort will continue all throughout the night,
it will not stop, the generators will be on, the lights will be on and
we`ll continue t through the evening and into the days to come.
MADDOW: Because of the size of the storm, we know that it`s path was
long, we know it was on the ground for about 45 mines. We know it was a
very wide tornado.
Can you give us any assessment, even a rough estimate of how many
people may have been affected? How many buildings may have been destroyed?
Just any sense of the overall scale here?
We`ve seen a lot of close-up pictures, but it`s hard to figure out the
magnitude of it.
LAMB: And Moore is a suburb of Oklahoma City and it`s all one large
metropolitan area. Roughly, the estimated population of Moore, Oklahoma
would be around 60,000, 65,000 to 75,000 individuals that have three 6A
(ph) high schools to kind of to show you some of the size.
But again, it`s a part of a larger metropolitan area, the tornado, and
I`m sure you have heard this and you covered already, Rachel, but the
tornado at its base and height was two miles wide. So if you imagine a
lawn mower blade that`s two miles wide and it`s just being lowered on
schools, neighborhoods and Lamar hospital was also hit, they had to
evacuate all the patients, and the basement, all the doctors, all the
nurses, one young lady was in labor during that time, evacuating all the
patients, down to the basement. That`s what it`s like. It`s a two-mile
wide lawn mower blade wreaking havoc across metropolitan area. And that`s
why there`s enormous loss of life, that`s why their neighborhoods look like
they were built with toothpicks, it`s just obliterated right now.
MADDOW: In terms of the way the nation has been focused on Oklahoma,
trying to get the state everything you need right now in responding, I have
to ask you because I have you here, if there`s anything you feel like
that`s been put out today that is wrong, that you`d like to correct or if
you feel like the national media attention and everybody wanting to help
has actually been helpful? Is there anything that we should know that we
haven`t been hearing today?
LAMB: That`s a very good question, and at this point, Rachel, I can`t
give an answer, to yes, here`s what we needed any differently. The
nation`s been great, the support. I was with Governor Fallin earlier when
she was talking to her colleagues around the country, a lot of lieutenant
governors called me to offer help. My neighbor Mark Darr from Arkansas,
he`s called to offer help.
The governor`s talked to the president, the governor made her formal
request on behalf of the state of Oklahoma with federal assistance from
FEMA, that`s going through the process right now. So, when you have that
tragedy and this devastation of this magnitude, it`s all hands on deck and
it`s all the volunteer in Oklahoma and the first responder training, we`re
doing all we can on the state level and that federal assistance the coming
down the pike as we speak.
MADDOW: Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb of Oklahoma, again, I am sorry
for your loss, sir, and grateful for you time helping us to understand it.
Please stay in touch if there`s any word that you want to help you get out
nationwide tonight, we`re at your service.
LAMB: We need your prayers and thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thank you, Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb of Oklahoma.
That last thing that he said there about all hands on deck jiving
absolutely with what Janet Shamlian told us from on the scene in Moore,
Oklahoma. One of the things that`s going on right now the ground is not
just devastation and the shock, as people come to see these pictures and
know what has happened here and how big an area this is, but how much
people wanting to help that`s becoming part of the stormy. Janet telling
us that people are waiting in line hours in their vehicles trying to get
into Moore, trying to help. And in some cases, those maybe local residents
trying to get home, but a lot of cases, it`s just people wanting to be part
of responding to this.
All right. Our coverage of the ongoing rescue efforts in Oklahoma
continues in just moments.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: The footage you see here is from earlier today that shows the
massive, massive tornado as it was on the ground in Moore, Oklahoma today.
Reports at the time it was hitting that it was a mile wide. We just spoke
with the lieutenant governor from the state of Oklahoma that at times when
it was on the ground, it was two miles wide, which explains the two-mile
wide swathe of Oklahoma that essentially was churned into rubble today.
This tornado was on the ground for 40 minutes. It caused devastation
that we are only now beginning to comprehend, there are rescue efforts
underway at an elementary school in Moore.
Stay with us. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Part of the story today, of course, was as the nation realize
the scale of what was happening in Oklahoma City, the nation tuned to local
media reporting what was happening around them in the Oklahoma city area.
We also today saw some incredible footage, some incredible literally
on the ground footage from people just taking video themselves as citizen
journalists and witnesses. Among those these Vine videos that you`re
looking at here. Vine videos are about six or seven second long looped
videos that anybody can upload very easily on line now. And these Vines
which are just incredible that I think show the most alarming up close
footage of what happened today.
These were shot by Oklahoma City resident David Massey (ph). He
posted these Vine videos showing the destruction. This was right after the
tornado hit in Moore. These Vine videos were shot about two miles from his
Mr. Massey, thank you very much for joining us tonight. I really
appreciate you being with us.
DAVID MASSEY, OKLAHOMA CITY RESIDENT (via telephone): Yes, thank you
for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: Where were you when you when you knew the tornado was coming
and what did you decide to do once it hit?
MASSEY: I was with my father at his house and the tornado was coming
north and it was directly in our path and so, we decided we were going to
drive, and drive in north, and when we were just leaving the home, we could
see the tornado there in my first Vine video and that`s when it started to
move east and went through the neighborhood. And so, we were no longer in
immediate danger of it comes towards us.
MADDOW: In terms of the footage that you shot – when you shot that
footage, and you uploaded it, what were you hoping to convey? And do you
think those videos sort of adequately conveyed the magnitude of what you
MASSEY: They show, you know, a small bit from just that neighborhood,
the sheer amount of destruction that went on and how many people were
affected by it. You know, what I wanted to do with that, I just wanted to
share what was happening. I immediately went down there to the scene, you
know, about ten to twenty minutes after the tornado moved to show what
MADDOW: I saw in the video, you can see one woman running. It looks
like she`s running either to try to get help or to try to offer help. Do
you know anything more about her or what might have happened there?
MASSEY: No, there were many people running back and forth. Some
people were coming off work. I heard one man say, you know, I hope my home
is still there. Some women were running and crying because there was
possibility their family members there.
So, you know, a lot of people were coming and going, and it was kind
of pandemonium and there are a lot of first responders trying to help
MADDOW: David, you sound like a young man, I`m not going to guess
your age. But, were you living in that same area when that huge tornado
hit in 1999 when everybody –
MASSEY: Yes, I was living in the same home when the May 3rd tornado
MADDOW: Can you compare this at all to what that was like?
MASSEY: Well, when you saw the imagines of destruction in the papers
the next day, it was massive. You know, it was a similar path. This was
the same neighborhood that was hit in the May 3rd tornado and completely
devastated and now, it`s happened again. I`m not sure if it was the same
size or damage done, but it was very similar.
MADDOW: Dave Massey, when you took that video and uploaded it, you
really – it was shared very widely and it helped a lot of people
understand what it would like to be there, and I think you have generated a
lot of nationwide empathy with giving people this citizens eye view. Thank
you for doing that and thank you for being with us tonight.
MASSEY: Great. Thank you.
MADDOW: David Massey joining us from Oklahoma City, who shot these
very moving, these very moving short videos post them on Vine today.
Joining us now is Sergeant Gary Knight of the Oklahoma City Police
Sergeant Knight, thank you so much for your time tonight. It`s nice
to have you with us.
SGT. GARY KNIGHT, OKLAHOMA POLICE (via telephone): Oh, thank you.
MADDOW: What can you tell us about the ongoing search and rescue
efforts tonight and how you expect those efforts to proceed?
KNIGHT: Well, unfortunately, the death toll continues to climb, I
don`t know how high it is at this point, but I know we`re continuing to
find the deceased.
Obviously, it`s a massive tornado that came through, a devastatingly
large tornado. The rescue effort will continue throughout the night, that
lack of daylight isn`t going to stop us, obviously. We can bring in light.
But it`s difficult to get into some of these places because the roads are
so blocked, by the debris, by power lines, by other cars that were thrown
on to the roadway, or parts of homes and business that were thrown under
the roadway, it makes it difficult to get vehicle and equipment in.
But I know that we are still out searching for the injured and the
trapped, trying to free them and get them the help they need.
MADDOW: Is there – we were speaking to the lieutenant governor a
moment ago about the prospect that people moving around in the affected
region may put themselves in danger because of things like downed power
lines, because of things like gas leaks. Is there an ongoing public safety
concern from your perspective in terms of people just being out and about
in the middle of the debris?
KNIGHT: Well, the biggest problem with people being out and about is
that it`s hindering the rescue efforts because people typically are driving
to these areas and the roads are already harder to get through, and that
only compounds the problems and the roads that are hard to get too already
become congested with other traffic.
So, we really want people to stay out of the area. Most people have
the best of intentions, they`re trying to come and see what they can do to
help these people. But unfortunately, that`s a situation that we really
don`t need. We want them to stay out so we can get emergency crews in
there to help these people.
MADDOW: Sgt. Knight, are there resources that you need that you don`t
have and is there anything that you would advise people can do to help,
either locally watching us on the cable systems that they`re still up, or
nationwide, people who are moved by this?
KNIGHT: Well, I think that the Red Cross is going to probably need as
much from the public as they can get because the Red Cross is going to have
an awful lot of people to deal with that have been displaced. And they`re
very good at getting their message out and how to give to them.
As far as our resources, we`ve got the large number of people. But
the problem isn`t the number of rescuers we have, the problem is getting
into the affected areas. So we`re doing everything we can to clear the
areas, to make it easier for the rescue personnel to get in.
MADDOW: This is sensitive to ask you about, because I realize it`s
both the emotional and it`s ongoing. But in terms of the elementary
school, where we know that some kids who are deceased have been taken out
of, in terms of Plaza Towers Elementary School. Can you tell us anything
about the challenge of the rescue and recover efforts there, what may have
been the cause of some of these deaths and the likelihood that many other
kids in there may have been able to be rescued?
KNIGHT: I truly don`t know the answer. I have seen the news reports
saying that children were trapped in water underneath. But again that`s
not anything – those are news reports that have been aired here. So, I
really can`t give you a better answer than that.
MADDOW: Are you able to tell us if there`s any other sites where
there might be a large number of people still involved, in some sort of
hospital setting or some sort of school setting or any other large number,
or any other place where a large number of people may be potentially
KNIGHT: Well, there were two schools and that was the main focus
because that`s where there were so many children congregated. The main
area that was hit in this were homes, this was a suburb of Oklahoma City.
So, you didn`t have a thick concentration of businesses. So you had a
movie theater, a hospital, and convenience stores, smaller places, fast
food, restaurants, but the majority of the damaged area was a neighborhood,
or neighborhoods that were just flattened by this tornado.
I heard you mentioned the tornado from `99, took a similar path
through here. Many people in Oklahoma, because of the number of tornadoes
we see have in-ground shelters and that`s probably something that`s going
to help keep that casualty number from going higher.
MADDOW: Sergeant knight, I just want to reiterate what you said
moments ago about people who may be within driving distance to the
devastation, you`re reiterating that they should not travel to the affected
area, that that`s actually hindering the rescue area, we`ll continue to
help you get that message out tonight.
Is there anything else you`d either heard reported today that you felt
was unhelpful or untrue, or anything else you`d like us to help let people
know about nationwide?
KNIGHT: No, you actually all are doing a very good job. This is a
national, international story. So, we appreciate you taking the time to
get the message out for us.
MADDOW: Thank you, sir.
Sergeant Gary Knight of the Oklahoma City Police Department, good
luck. Thank you.
KNIGHT: Take care.
MADDOW: We`ll have more reporting from the scene in Moore, Oklahoma,
more shocking generosity of spirit from people who are in difficult
circumstances thanking us for our attention in times like this, which is
the kind of thing that always gives you great perspective on the kindness
and the decency of people in that part of the country. We`ll be right
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFEID MALE: We thought we died because we were inside the
cellar door, and it got louder. You see the latch coming undone and we
couldn`t reach for it and it ripped open the door. And it just glass and
debris started slamming on us. We thought we were dead, to be honest.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was from earlier today in Moore, Oklahoma. This is a
photo that`s been posted by “The Associated Press.” It was taken by Paul
Helstern (ph) at “The Oklahoman.”
This is outside Briarwood Elementary School. You heard over the
course of the day that there were two elementary schools that were in the
direct path of the tornado. One of them called Plaza Towers Elementary
School, where rescue operations are still under way right now.
The state police and the lieutenant governor tonight telling us that
those rescue efforts will continue even as daylight ends in the region.
But this is from the other school. This is from Briarwood Elementary
School. And these are teachers.
Can we go back to the photo for a second?
These are teachers, both the male and female adults in this picture, I
believe, at least are captioned as teachers leading kids away from
Briarwood Elementary. You can see both teachers in this, at least both
adults in this picture themselves are injured but calmly getting kids out
I want to go live to Briarwood Elementary School, the scene of that
photo from today. Let`s go to NBC News` Jay Gray.
Do we have Jay with us? We do have Jay with us.
JAY GRAY, NBC NEWS: Yes.
MADDOW: Jay, thank you very much for being was.
Jay, can you tell us where you are and what the scene is where you
GRAY: Well, Rachel, that school you were talking about, Briarwood,
just over my shoulder, or more aptly was, you can look behind me and see
the response teams that continue to pour into this neighborhood. That was
the school. It has been completely wiped away here.
I`m really where south Oklahoma City and Moore come together. This is
the path of the storm. This is where it came through. What I can tell you
is you can still smell, you can still hear the fractured gas lines here,
spraying that gas openly, downed power lines obviously, also broken water
The infrastructure in this area completely wrecked and that`s what
these teams are doing, moving in, trying to secure what they can.
We`re also seeing some of the survivors, some of the people getting a
chance to get in. Take a look at what`s happened here. Stunned, wide-
eyed, really can`t comprehend what has happened here. And few of us can.
It`s been poignant to see some of the families come here and look out
where the school used to be and to hear parents telling their kids your
school`s gone, and not being able to explain, none of us can, Rachel, at
this point, where it`s gone, what`s happened here.
And remember, this is just the beginning of the recovery efforts here.
We still haven`t been into some of the most severe areas.
What I`m hearing from first responders, and these are guys who have
lived here all their lives, been through tornadoes all their lives, what
they`re saying is a few blocks down here, it`s really unrecognizable, you
can`t comprehend what`s happened there and these are from people who have
seen quite a lot here, Rachel.
MADDOW: Jay, one of the things that we have been able to confirm
tonight from the state medical examiners and overall debt toll so far of
51, the state medical examiner is saying of the 51 people killed, seven are
elementary school kids from Plaza Towers Elementary School, which was the
other school besides Briarwood, where you are now, that was right in the
path of the tornado.
We heard earlier in the day that all the kids at Briarwood Elementary
School miraculously were accounted for. Is that your understanding of what
happened at Briarwood?
GRAY: It`s exactly what we`re hearing on the ground here just a block
away from that school. I can tell you that the teams are still there and
they`re still working, but they say all of the children there have been
And I talked to some of the teachers who are there at the time of all
of this, and what they tell me obviously they secured themselves in
hallways and in areas that were removed from the outside walls of the
school. Very emotional as you would expect. And talking about the idea
that these kids, some of them had no idea what was going on, had no idea of
the peril that was going on outside their school. And really proud of the
fact that they were able to secure those children and safely return them to
But again, a lot of that starting to unfold here, that`s the great
news. What we`re hearing from that other school that you talk about, Tower
Plaza or Plaza Tower, is that there are still students missing there and
that mission has turned from rescue to recovery. So they`re obviously
still working there, Rachel.
MADDOW: NBC`s Jay Gray – Jay, thank you so much, that was really
helpful for us to understand what`s going on there. I really appreciate
MADDOW: Jay is near Briarwood Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma.
These are live shots of that area where we were just talking to Jay,
as you can see, power is out in this area, it doesn`t look like it normally
does in an aerial and the blinking lights and the those strings that you
see through the city are traffic – traffic and first responders and
emergency vehicles on scene trying to do the best they can.
We have heard reiterated from public safety officials and from
political leaders that you don`t need to be out on the streets if you can
avoid it. If you are in the area, and you are driving distance from Moore,
Oklahoma and these other places that have been hit so far, they do not need
you to be out on the streets offering help. They have all the human power
that they need to get done what can be done. They will be working through
the night with rescue efforts, particularly at that Plaza Towers Elementary
They believe there may be people unaccounted for there, including
kids. But they don`t need people out and about and they`re having a really
hard time getting around in Oklahoma City. I will say at this late hour
right now, it`s 9:41 on the East Coast. It`s 8:41 local time in Oklahoma
To hear Jay say, you can smell the live gas, you can smell gas lines
still spraying the gas out into the air, you can see downed power lines,
you can see broken water mains, this is a live scene. This is not over.
This is something where the rescue efforts and the efforts of first
responders are still under way, and there`s very little that those of us
who are civilians can do except donate and pray, and donate again, either
blood or money if you haven`t done so in the first place.
Our coverage of the ongoing rescue efforts in Oklahoma will continue.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: OK. This is a live aerial shot right now. Night has now
fallen in the Oklahoma City area. This is Moore, Oklahoma. This is Plaza
Towers Elementary School.
So far, the death toll from this huge tornado just outside Oklahoma
City, or in the suburbs of Oklahoma City is 51, according to the state
medical examiner. KFOR, our NBC affiliate in the areas, says that of the
51 people killed, confirmed dead thus far, seven are children whose bodies
were taken out of the Plaza Towers Elementary School. That is where you
see this rescue effort tonight.
Everybody we have spoken tonight in Oklahoma involved in law
enforcement and the political leaders in the state saying that this effort
will go on, will persist through the night, that they will bring in as much
light as they need and they will work until they work anymore.
Joining us now is Ann Dee Lee of the Oklahoma Department of Emergency
Management. Right now, she`s in the control center. That`s in the
basement of the state capitol.
Ms. Lee, thank you very much for being with us tonight. I appreciate
ANN DEE LEE, OKLAHOMA DEPARTMENT OF EMERGENCY MGMT. (via telephone):
No problem. Call me Andy.
MADDOW: I shall.
What can you tell us about the status of the emergency response effort
at this hour and where it`s centered?
LEE: Actually, we still have tornado warnings in the state. In far
eastern Oklahoma, there`s still a tornado warning that`s going so this is
by no means over. We had the mile-wide tornado that you mentioned in Moore
and we have so many people responding off the street to help that the Fire
Department has asked for people to stay home.
We just don`t want to get in the way of the professionals who know how
to search and rescue in the proper manner.
So, I mean, we don`t want anyone else injured. So, that`s kind of
where we are at the moment.
MADDOW: We have an estimate of the fatalities, 51 deaths confirmed by
the state medical examiner. We know from the hospitals that 120 people
have injuries served enough to be treated at the hospital thus far. And we
expect both of those numbers to rise.
Is there any sort of statewide or even local effort at times like this
to try to account for those who might be missing, to know where rescue
efforts right best be focused?
LEE: I don`t know if any congregant, if there`s such a word,
organized effort to do that. But I know because of, thanks to Facebook and
other social networks, that people are contacting each other over the place
and are reporting as they gain more information.
There are shelters popping up all over. The Red Cross, the Salvation
Army, the Oklahoma Baptist, I believe, missionary folks are working on
bringing in food and water and shelter for anyone who needs it. And we`re
also having people responding with their own bulldozers and things like
that to get rid of debris so that`s why we`re trying to be as coordinated
in this effort as we can.
MADDOW: We have heard those warnings over and over again today
against people essentially self dispatching to help, even if you have the
kinds of skills that people think they can help. Is there any way that
people can help? Anything that people around the country or indeed people
watching in Oklahoma can do tonight to be of assistance?
LEE: Just before you went to break, I thought you said it perfectly,
and that was that you can pray. But you can also give to the Red Cross, to
the Salvation Army, and to other charities that are doing something to give
back to people.
I think the worst thing you can do having my experience with the
bombing that we had here is that dump off used clothing and things like
that. The best thing that you can do is to give money to those charities
because they will make sure that the resources that they have are then sent
out in the proper way.
MADDOW: Overnight as rescue efforts continue and as we head toward
dawn and I imagine we`ll be an even more devastating sense of how big this
effort has gone. Will efforts to respond and rescue people and to
coordinate the overall response in terms of dealing with debris and all the
rest of it, will that be coordinated from where you are at the state
LEE: We`re working with many state agencies, we are kind of the
headquarters for a lot of those places, but a lot of those places are also
operating out in the field and have a staging area, but we are in constant
communication with all of them.
So, we are doing our best to coordinate the efforts, but I would say
it`s definitely a joint effort.
MADDOW: Ann Dee Lee of the Oklahoma Department of Emergency
Management, thank you for being with us tonight.
And please think of us as a resource, if there is news that you need
to get out to a national audience, either to correct something that`s
misinforming people or just word that you need to get out, please think of
us as a resource tonight.
LEE: Thank you so much.
MADDOW: All right. Thank you.
You know, what Ms. Lee just said there from the not donating stuff
seems like a tangent to focus on stuff like that, when there`s national
attention and you see people that lost everything, over and over again, we
do see efforts to try to get stuff sent to people, to try to collect things
people might need that seems like might be helpful.
It is almost never the case that physical piles of stuff will actually
help or that they will get to the people who you want to get them. The
logistical nightmare created by people around the country trying to think
up what might be needed on site, it actually makes things worse.
So, if you do want to contribute, things that you can give are
generally needed are most of all money, and secondarily, blood.
Contact your local Red Cross.
We`ll be back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
REPORTER: Look at that. That right there is the main entrance into
the hospital. All of those cars are wedged. It looks like a flood.
It looks like a flood of water picked all of that up, shoved it right
there in the V part of the hospital, that`s the main entrance there. That
is – you`re looking kind of towards the northwest. So, that`s pretty much
the track of the storm.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Seeing those cars piled up like toys outside the medical
center in Moore, Oklahoma, today. This is a live aerial shot you`re
looking at now of the scene as rescue efforts continue.
Joining us now, Dr. Harold Brooks. He leads the modeling observation
and analysis team at the National Severe Storms lab in Norman, Oklahoma.
Dr. Brooks, thank you very much for being with us tonight. I
appreciate your time.
DR. HAROLD BROOKS, NOAA (via telephone): You`re welcome. Thank you
for having me.
MADDOW: Obviously, there have been very large storms, perhaps the
fastest winds recorded on earth in storms that hit Moore, Oklahoma, in the
past. Why is this area so prone to large storms like this?
BROOKS: Well, in general it is not that Moore necessarily itself is
so special but to this part of the country, gets more violent tornadoes
than probably any place on the planet simply because the ingredients come
together more often. We get the warm moist, gulf moist – more moist air
off the Gulf of Mexico and we get cold, dry air from over the Rocky
Mountains, and that`s the perfect ingredients to make violent tornadoes.
MADDOW: We`re used to thinking about Tornado Alley and that region of
the country that you`re in as you describe, being sort of the home base for
so many tornadoes that happen in a recurring way every year, but it is
striking just to somebody outside the region to follow those paths and see
large storms having followed almost exactly the same path through that
specific part of Oklahoma at least three times now.
Are you saying that`s essentially just coincidence, could have
happened anywhere else in Tornado Alley?
BROOKS: Well, I mean, if you think of it at the standpoint somewhere
it would happen, has to be somewhere, just by random chance. If you look
at it from the perspective of Moore, it is extremely unfortunate. But it
probably is, as far as we can tell from what we know about the data and our
understanding of how tornadoes form, it probably is just an incredibly
MADDOW: We`re hearing tonight, Dr. Brooks, including from the
governor of Oklahoma, Mary Fallin, that a lot of lives may have been saved
by accurate forecasting, by the fact that the forecasts were essentially
accurate, that people were told the storm was major and roughly where it
was going to be.
Do you feel like we are making good predictions, including for today`s
storm that they`re accurate and well disseminated as best could be done?
BROOKS: Well, you never know if anything is as best can be done, but
we certainly have made a lot of progress. You think back to even May 3rd,
1999 tornado, one of the big differences this time around is that starting
last week on the 15th, there were forecasts that high lined today as the
day that in this part of the country there was likely to be significant
tornadoes and that message has been carried forward since then with more
precision as we have gone day to day, down to the point to now we can give
warnings on the day, particularly involved with that one storm that 16
minutes before the tornado formed, by New Castle, a warning was issued.
That was roughly 30, 40 minutes before it got to Moore.
MADDOW: It`s an amazingly short period of time when you think of
trying to save your life and your family`s life, but it is a long period of
time when you think about how little we used to know about these things and
how to predict where they were going. It`s remarkable story.
Dr. Harold Brooks from the National Severe Storms Lab, thank you for
helping us understand this tonight. I appreciate your time.
BROOKS: You`re welcome, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: In Moore, Oklahoma, this hour, which is a suburb of Oklahoma
City, the sun has set. Authorities say search and rescue efforts will
continue through the night, in the wake of the massive tornado that ripped
through the area this afternoon.
The latest confirmed death toll from the state medical examiner is 51
people killed. That death toll is expected to climb. Hospitals are
treating more than 120 patients locally tonight, including about 70 kids.
That`s because two elementary schools in Moore, Oklahoma, were among the
structures that took a direct hit from the storm. First responders saying
that all of the kids at one of those schools, Briarwood Elementary, all
those kids have been accounted for.
“The Associated Press” sent out this photograph from a local newspaper
photojournalist Paul Helstern (ph) from “The Oklahoman.” It shows teachers
carrying away kids from Briarwood. You can see in the background the
school obviously in ruins, but not completely leveled.
But the other school, Plaza Towers Elementary, 75 students and staff
reported to have been sheltering from the storm inside the building. That
whole school was completely leveled by the storm. First responders are
looking through rubble, up to 10 feet high.
Our NBC affiliate in Oklahoma City, KFOR, is reporting that bodies of
seven kids were recovered from what is left of the school. “The Associated
Press” is also sending out is photo of an adult staff member at Plaza
Towers being rescued from the rubble alive.
We`ll bring you more on the latest from Oklahoma as details become
Lawrence O`Donnell picks up our live coverage right now.
MSNBC will be live with the latest throughout the night and into the
Stay with us, please.
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