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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Tornado in Oklahoma; Tornado's Aftermath

Aired May 24, 2011 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.

We are live in Joplin, Missouri -- tonight, a town bracing for a storm that's expected to hit any moment, death toll rising here in Joplin, Missouri, to 124, and a staggering number of people unaccounted for, some 1,500, according to one local official, new tornadoes tonight also in our Southwest, in Oklahoma, with fatalities and a tornado watch and curfew in effect here. As I said, that storm expected to hit some time in the next few minutes here. We're hoping to be able to stay on the air.

We have actually moved to a more secure location. I want to show you what's been happening, though, in Oklahoma, the storm there simply unbelievable. This funnel cloud cut a tractor-trailer in half.

The driver, we're told, escaped with his life. It was not the only tornado on the ground, at least four people killed west of Oklahoma City in Canadian County. At one point, the National Weather Service had to evacuate its Norman, Oklahoma, Storm Prediction Center.

Here's how a local chopper crew reported what they saw as a new funnel cloud formed. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow. We got lightning really close. Where is it? Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, we got -- sorry. We got another tornado on the ground. But we're going to have to get out of here, guys. We can't stay around here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Multiple vortex -- multiple vortex tornado on the ground. Where's the location as we're looking back there towards the south?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't worry about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, we're good, we're good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will be all right.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Here's a remarkable view from reporter David Payne of CNN affiliate KFOR.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID PAYNE, KFOR: There it is on the ground, big elephant trunk. It's getting stronger, elephant trunk tornado on the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: David, from I-40 and Highway 102, where is it from you, from I-40 and 102? Where is that tornado?

PAYNE: OK. Take my stream. Take my stream.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Begin one. Begin two. Take -- begin two.

(CROSSTALK)

PAYNE: Northwest of I-40 (AUDIO GAP) 102, a big old -- big elephant trunk, elephant trunk tornado. It's just northwest. It's over -- it's north of i-40. If you take our stream, you will see it in the stream right there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Unbelievable.

David Payne is joining us now live on the phone.

David, how close were you to that tornado?

PAYNE: Well, you know what? That video there, that was kind of at the end of the chase.

The first tornado, which I would love to give you -- I hope you guys can get some video of this -- that was when it was on the west side of El Reno. You mentioned Canadian County, west side of Oklahoma City.

And at that one point, I lost a side rear-view mirror or a side mirror off my car today. And we were within a couple hundred yards when it was nearly about three-quarters-of-a-mile wide tornado when it sat down southwest of Oklahoma City, an incredible storm.

It goes back to what we just witnessed in Joplin, Missouri, the Deep South and April 27. And then you have got to go back to the last time we had an event like this in Oklahoma City, May 3 of 1999.

But the tornadoes today were violent, long, tracking tornadoes, absolutely amazing. And these storms just went up hard. They were turning and rotating from start to finish. And they were killer tornadoes today in Oklahoma.

COOPER: And to get that close, what does it actually feel like? People talk about a pressure change. PAYNE: Right. There is if you're really close. You often hear of the noise that it sounds like. If you're really close, it sounds like -- we're close to Tinker Air Force Base, so we hear jets often. It sounds like you're standing next to a jet airplane, like you're back by the engine.

And then sometimes I offer refer to it when I tell people when I'm not doing this, it sounds like a rushing waterfall, like standing next to Niagara Falls, because a tornado is water flowing at a high velocity, such as Niagara Falls, but a lot faster. But it sounds like that, and your ear will pop sometimes.

But they pop big-time and you can have obviously ear damage if you're caught inside a tornado. And our plan is not to do that. But what we do is, we -- we try to bring home the viewer while they're watching where the tornado is. And you heard me talking: Hey, you know, we're streaming. Take my stream. I'm talking about live streaming video, which you guys know all about.

But that's how we bring the pictures live to the viewer. But when you're up close to it, it's dramatic. It's chaos. It's -- there's drama. It's insane. And your main objective is you're trying to tell people, hey, this is where it is. And if you don't move, if you don't move, you got to get out of the way or go below ground or you're going to die.

And that's what we were trying to tell people today. This was going to be a horrible day here. We knew it. We have been talking about it for like a week. But it's just -- it's been a crazy day. And I guess now -- I just talked to the newsroom. I guess the death toll, unofficially, now may be 10 here in Oklahoma.

And they're still trying to find people. There was a lot of tornadoes, big tornadoes on the ground for quite a while today.

COOPER: Yes. Yes.

David Payne, I'm glad you were safe and I appreciate you talking to us tonight.

As you said, there has been loss of life in Oklahoma.

Joining us now on the phone is the governor of Oklahoma. And we appreciate her calling, Mary Fallin.

Governor, what is the latest information you have about the situation in Oklahoma right now?

GOV. MARY FALLIN (R), OKLAHOMA: Well, we're still not out of the woods yet. We still have storms that are going through the northeast part and southwest part of Oklahoma.

And so there's some possible tornadic activity still in our state. So, we're still under a state of alert. What we do know is that there have been about 14 communities throughout the state of Oklahoma that have been hit today by tornadoes and have sustained substantial damage.

We're very, very sad that we have had some fatalities in our state. We're still trying to confirm the exact number of the fatalities. We know we have had over 60 people who have had injuries and some very, very severe injuries.

We have almost 60,000 homes right now without electricity. We have heard we have some possible schools that have been destroyed in some of the rural areas. And, you know, we -- we still have a long night ahead of us with these storms. And we're trying to make sure we get out and do door-to-door search-and-rescue to find those who might have survived the tornado and to send emergency response...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Are you able at this point to have people out actually looking, or is -- in some places, is it still to dangerous to have search-and-rescue out?

FALLIN: No, we do have a lot of people out. In fact, it's just been incredible, the response that we have had throughout the whole state.

Our big challenge right now is, it's finally dark and we still have storms that are going through a certain portion of our state, the ones that -- the storms that are heading up towards Joplin right now. And these are very severe storms. And so it's going to be hard to find those tornadoes when they do come out if -- and, hopefully, they won't, but they still might.

We have a lot of power that's down right now, and that makes it very dangerous for those that are trying to do search-and-rescue and trying to open up some of the roadways, too.

COOPER: And has the National Guard been mobilized, or is that something you're considering?

FALLIN: Well, we have all kinds of emergency personnel. The National Guard is out helping, our highway patrol, our health department. We have Salvation Army, Red Cross. All of our first- responders were out across the state.

And the big challenge for us today, Anderson, has been that, I mean, we have had a massive outbreak of tornadoes that's gone on now for the last five hours throughout the state. It's pretty unusual. I have been in office for 20 years. I have been through a lot of these natural disasters, but I have never seen this many in a short period of time.

I'm in the state capital area right now, and earlier today, we had three tornado sirens go off where I'm located within about an hour-and-a-half, and that's highly unusual.

COOPER: Wow. Yes.

Well, Governor, I appreciate you talking with us tonight. I am so sorry for the fatalities in your state. And I hope, in the hours ahead, that the numbers don't increase.

Governor Fallin, thank you very much.

FALLIN: Well, thank you so much. And we will send our thoughts and prayers to Joplin also.

COOPER: Yes. Well, thank you. People here appreciate it, and they know people around the world have been watching and sending their love and their prayers.

I can tell you, just starting to see some lightning here in Joplin, if that storm we have been told about is approaching.

Let's talk with Chad Myers, who is tracking tonight's tornadoes.

Chad, what a day it has been.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. It has been.

You know, I was trying to in my head when David Payne was talking, because I watched his video all day long, and when the governor was talking, I was trying to add up how many square miles of Oklahoma was devastated by tornadic activity today, by tornadoes.

And David Payne's tornado was probably 60 miles long, a half- mile-wide the entire time. So, that's 30 square miles of devastated land in one tornado. And they are searching through 30 square miles of land to find survivors here. The storm is still not done. It's still moving through parts of eastern Oklahoma.

There you are right there, Joplin, probably 45 minutes away, if not less, for the lightning. Lightning always gets there before. So, I need you to be careful out there, and all of the other crew out there as well.

Let's take a look at something else going on right now. We're going to take you to Dallas-Ft. Worth. Here's Ft. Worth. Here's Dallas, a very large cell near the university, near the Park Cities here, and also out toward Garland. We know some of these storms are rotating. There have been tornadoes on the ground in the Metroplex, with damage.

Don't know how much. It's dark. It's hard to see. Here's one of the chasers we have. This is Ric Burney from ChaserTV. He's driving through it. We have been watching these chasers all night long on streaming video, the same streaming video that David Payne was telling you about a little bit ago.

And now to you, Anderson, what we have in store for you, Joplin, Missouri right here. Here's I-44. Here's Miami, Oklahoma. You are only at Interstate Exit 10-12 here at Joplin. So there's 10 miles. There's another 10 miles, maybe another -- so you're 30 miles away and this thing is moving east at 50. That doesn't bode well for the end of your show. We will be here just to take care of it.

We want you off the air if lightning gets close. We will take care of it from here.

COOPER: We're starting to hear I think some thunder rumbling here...

MYERS: Yes.

COOPER: ... and definitely seen -- seeing some lightning.

We're -- Chad, we're basically proceeding as if this is going to be a lot of winds, just like with a hurricane. And so we're actually kind of hunkered down on the side of a brick building. And kind of our main concern is just keeping the satellite truck on air and not letting it flip over in high winds. So we think we're in a pretty good location from we're at.

I want to go to Ed Lavandera, who is on the phone in Dallas, which, as Chad was mentioning, was also hit by storms tonight.

Ed, what have you seen there? How is the city doing?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we're in the middle of a severe weather cell that's cutting through the heart of Dallas. And we have seen this over the last hour, where a tornado was confirmed touched down in the northwest corner of Tarrant County, which is Ft. Worth, the Ft. Worth area.

And that same storm system had -- has been making its way across the Dallas area in the last hour. We have heard sirens, tornado sirens wailing across the city for most of the half-hour, last hour, severe lightning, hail, in some places as big as tennis-ball-size, we have heard reports of so far.

No reports yet on the extent of the damage or any kind of injuries that might have been caused by that tornado that touched down or how long it was on the ground. So, we're still trying to assess that.

COOPER: Right.

LAVANDERA: But a very dangerous situation right now, Anderson. At the Texas Rangers baseball game tonight, the stadium had to be evacuated as the storm got closer to where that was going on.

COOPER: Right.

LAVANDERA: So, this storm system continues to cut across Dallas, many people watching it closely. Power outages have been going in -- in and out, a very treacherous situation, and people hopeful, hopefully, this thing moves through rather quickly.

COOPER: Yes. Ed Lavandera reporting for us from Dallas tonight.

Ed, we will continue to check in with you.

We're on Facebook. You can follow us there. Follow me on Twitter @AndersonCooper. I will try to be tweeting tonight, although Twitter has been intermittent here.

We're going to continue to update the breaking news throughout the hour.

Up next, though, the search for victims here in Joplin, victims, survivors and hundreds of people who may be alive and well, but cut off from contact for those who care most about them. We will have all the details from Joplin ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back. We're live in Joplin. Just starting to rain here a little bit here, a storm expected over the course of this hour.

Updating the breaking news, though, the tornadoes hitting Oklahoma, at least four fatalities so far in the state, though, as you just heard from the governor, it is still very early hours, and they have a long night ahead, as she just said.

For local -- the local affiliate KFOR -- a reporter for the local affiliate says the official number is higher.

The dangerous line of storms moving toward us, a tornado watch in effect here in Joplin, Missouri. We're in a much more sheltered location than we were in last night. Curfew is in effect here tonight for the first time as of 9:00 p.m. local time, just a few minutes ago.

This morning, a local emergency official says that -- said that 1,500 people are still unaccounted for -- 1,500. Now, that's in a city of about 50,000. Now, don't think that all those people -- that doesn't mean that, just because they're unaccounted for, that's a death toll, that that's fatalities. It's not.

The number may change, and we think it may change a lot when people start coming back. It's very difficult to maintain contact with people here or to make contact with people. Cell phone use is spotty. Twitter is spotty. A lot of people don't have access to the Internet.

So, some people just can't get in touch with each other. And maybe some of those people, that's what accounts for some of those -- unaccounted-for number.

There's 120 bodies right now in the local morgue, 120 people in the local morgue -- 60 to 80 people have no identification or any real clue to their identity at this point. It doesn't mean, again, that there are 1,500 presumed dead. It likely means that hundreds of people just can't connect with loved ones and vice versa.

Tonight, though, we're going to show you the effort to make those connections. We will show you how you can help also, how you can help locate Emma Marie Hayes. She became separated from her daughter when their house was destroyed. She has Parkinson's. She needs medication. She doesn't have her medication with -- you -- if you see her, call the number on your screen, 417-298-7890. That's 417-298- 7890.

Also missing, Lantz Hare, 16 years old. He was in a car trying to get home. A friend who was with him is still alive. The window blew out in the car. His friend blacked out.

When his friend -- friend came to, Lantz was gone. The number to call if you might know his whereabouts, 417-396-6523 -- again, 417- 396-6523.

Sixteen-month-old Skyular Logsdon is also unaccounted for. His mom was hurt and is recovering -- reports that Skyular might have been picked up by police. There's a lot of speculation, just a lot of rumors. We're trying to get facts. You're asked to call 417-622-7279 if you have any information about little Skyular.

Dee Ann Hayward is also missing. Her car was found, the seat belt buckle no -- there was no blood in the car. She was nowhere to be found. Call 620-783-5710 if you have information on her whereabouts.

And, finally, another name that we talked about last night, Will Norton. The 18-year-old was driving home from his high school graduation with his dad. The tornado destroyed the SUV he was riding in. If you know anything about him, please send an e-mail to findwillnorton -- one word -- findwillnorton@gmail.com, or call 757- 751-WILL. That's 757-751-9455.

We're going to talk with Will's aunt in just a moment.

Some of these stories will hopefully have happy endings. Some will not. There's also likely to still be many bodies and possibly some survivors still in the rubble.

Here's what we saw earlier today with a search-and-rescue crew.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): At Joplin's Home Depot, the search-and- rescue personnel from Missouri Task Force One have not found anyone alive. They have only found bodies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything that we did yesterday were recoveries. And we completed seven of those.

COOPER (on camera): Are -- do you think there are more people still inside?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have some indication about canine alerts that, yes, we think we have some people underneath those slabs.

COOPER: Do you think may be alive still, or...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's unlikely that they're alive.

COOPER (voice-over): Doug Westhoff is the task force leader. DOUG WESTHOFF, TASK FORCE LEADER: We had people coming by here yesterday who could recognize vehicles on the lot of their loved ones, knew, in all likelihood, that they were in the store or potentially underneath those slabs. And one gentleman knew that his son-in-law and his two grandkids were all, in likelihood, that store. He waited around here through the entire day yesterday until we made those recoveries.

COOPER: Mortuary teams stand by to deal with the recovered bodies, but search-and-rescue personnel still hope to find someone alive.

DR. ELIODORA CHAMBERLAIN, MISSOURI TASK FORCE ONE: The dogs are trained to search for live people who are trapped or entombed beneath structures exactly like this. This is exactly the job that we have been called out to do.

COOPER: This task force has four dogs working in Joplin.

Dr. Eliodora Chamberlain's dog is named Katie (ph).

CHAMBERLAIN: They have got to be naked, because if you can see all this debris, and she has a collar or a vest on, they could get trapped. So, she's got to be naked.

COOPER (on camera): So you take all this off...

(CROSSTALK)

CHAMBERLAIN: I take all of this off when I actually send her in. And when I get her ready to go, I direct her into the area.

COOPER (voice-over): Many of the fatalities at the Home Depot have been found near the front of the store.

(on camera): They ran in. If they were -- if they were huddled near the front, that would have been the most dangerous spot for them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unfortunately, yes.

COOPER: Because that's where the walls would have collapsed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's where the walls came down.

COOPER (voice-over): They have used heavy equipment to drill through the collapsed walls and check underneath. Then they push the walls out of the way.

(on camera): This is actually a wall of the Home Depot?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure.

COOPER: And that was up and then it fell. And then you guys have picked up the whole wall?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What you got is a piece of concrete. You can see the insulation foam in between and then another layer of concrete on top of that.

COOPER: That's -- this is all insulation?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely.

COOPER (voice-over): The walls may have collapsed, but, oddly, the tornado left many of the store shelves still standing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was a much more survivable environment here than it would have been to be at the front of the store, where those huge concrete walls came down onto them.

COOPER (on camera): Have you already been through this area?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Even with the front of the store being inaccessible, we were able to probe in from different places.

COOPER (voice-over): With so much heavy equipment needed, the search is sometimes frustratingly slow.

(on camera): How much are you working against the clock here in terms of the bad weather coming later today?

WESTHOFF: We're working against the clock all the time, both for the survivability profile and then the forecast for the -- for the bad weather.

COOPER: Right.

WESTHOFF: So, yes, we're always under the gun for that. We had to shelter our folks a few times yesterday just based on the lightning strikes and the hail and rain and that sort of stuff. It just makes it impossible to move around and do it safely.

COOPER (voice-over): Time is running out, and there's still so much to do.

Doug Westhoff is trying to be optimistic.

WESTHOFF: If the space is right, if the void is big enough, these people -- people can last many days like this. So, we're -- we're two to three days into this thing. And we're sort of the eternal optimists out here, Anderson. We're going to -- we're going to maintain hope just as long as we can. The reality is always creeping in the back of your brain that this is becoming less and less likely a rescue and more and more likely recoveries. But that's the reality of the world we work -- we live in.

COOPER (voice-over): By the end of the day, they find one trapped person, but, sadly, that person had already died. The searching continues, however, even here in Joplin amidst all this misery. Even here, there is still some hope.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And there is still some hope. We showed you some of the unaccounted-for a few moments ago, including Will Norton. He was actually just sucked through the sunroof of an SUV. He was in the car with his dad. His dad has been in the hospital recovering. He was on his way home from his high school graduation. He vanished, turned up at the local hospital, then was transferred. No one knows exactly where.

His -- sirens are actually now going off here again. Again, there's been concern all day about an approaching storm.

His family went to one hospital. Will Norton's family went to one hospital after hearing of a patient there who matched will's description. It was not him, we're told.

We spoke with the family last night.

Tracy Tresler (ph), Will's aunt, joins me now on the phone tonight.

Tracy, you're indoors, correct?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Yes. We're getting ready to go to the basement, but I will try to make this quick. We did look...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: No, you know what? Why don't you...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you hear me?

COOPER: Tracy, Tracy, why don't you go to the basement? We will talk -- yes. Tracy, go to the basement. We will talk to you later on in the broadcast. I don't want -- I don't want you to stay and...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Thank you.

COOPER: So, go to the basement, Tracy, all right? We will talk to you later. All right. We will talk to you later.

Chad Myers joins us now.

So, Chad, we're now hearing the sirens here.

MYERS: Yes.

COOPER: Can you get a sense of where the storm is?

MYERS: The storm has now a tornado warning on it. About 10 minutes ago, they issued a severe thunderstorm warning on. It means that you could wind or some hail.

But right here, right on this part of the storm, Anderson, on that southeastern part of the storm, it's beginning to rotate. This part of the storm is going this way. This part of the storm is going this way. And that's enough rotation, especially with what has already happened in Joplin, to put the tornado warning out for that storm.

Not saying there's a tornado on the ground. In fact, there probably isn't. This is a Doppler radar-indicated potential tornado. But everyone there needs -- in Joplin needs to be taking cover in someplace substantial, someplace out of the weather.

I will be here watching it for the rest of the night.

COOPER: Yes.

And Gary Tuchman is at a shelter where hundreds of people had -- have sought safety tonight. I'm told we have just lost Gary. We're going to try to reestablish contact.

There's about -- I think Gary told me before he left there were about 400 people at a shelter tonight that they have gone to.

And, Chad, one of the things you and I had been talking about yesterday is there's just not a lot -- I mean, there's a lot of areas here which have been destroyed, so people don't have obviously their homes to go to. And even those homes, they didn't have basements in those homes. They are -- they were just built on concrete slabs.

MYERS: Right.

And the potential here is that all of that debris that clearly is out there will be picked up by the wind, either in a severe thunderstorm, gusts of 50 or 60 miles per hour, or it will be picked up in a new tornado. And the potential now exists for that tornado, with the warning sirens going, those sirens may not stop for quite some time, Anderson.

COOPER: And we have -- one of the reasons we picked the location that we have, not only is it against a brick building that's a very solidly-built building. It's also -- there's not a lot -- a debris field anywhere within sight of here.

No guarantees, of course, but it's still one more precaution to take.

I'm told we have Gary Tuchman on the phone.

Gary, you're at a shelter. How many people are at the shelter? And what's happening now that the sirens are going off?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, there's more than 400 people. This is the largest shelter in Joplin, Missouri, at Missouri Southern State University.

And there's a little panic going on right now because police officials, the Red Cross officials just came in the room where the 400 people were sleeping in cots, yelled, get out, get out, go into the basement, go into the shelter. We don't want anymore body bags. So, you have a lot of infirm and elderly and sick and traumatized people struggling to get out of bed and run down into the basement shelter. We're kind of the last ones going down there right now. They're insisting we go down with them.

But it's a very sad situation. These poor people have been traumatized for the last 48 hours. The shelter is more crowded tonight than it was last night because of this fear. And now these poor people who have suffered so much are running down into the shelter to protect themselves.

COOPER: Gary, there are a lot of people too who are sheltering with friends and families, who are staying with friends and family.

TUCHMAN: Yes. There's a lot of staying with friends and family, but these are people who have no place to go.

Most of these people have lost everything. A lot of these people have lost relatives. There's a lot of grief. There's a lot of trauma. And just seeing the indignity -- I mean, they're obviously doing the right thing, the safety officials. But seeing the indignity of these poor people just trying to run down, in many cases, they can't run. They're on crutches and some people are (AUDIO GAP) trying to get down in the basement (INAUDIBLE) doing right now, so we're literally (INAUDIBLE) basement with all these people. A lot of these people (INAUDIBLE)

COOPER: OK. Gary, you're breaking up. I think you're going down to the basement, which is probably a wise thing for you to do at your location.

Today, we learned that President Obama plans to come to Missouri on Sunday. He said he wants to make sure the people of Missouri have everything that they need to pull through.

Coming up tonight, more on the breaking news: at least four dead in tornadoes in central Oklahoma. I'm going to speak with the Canadian County sheriff coming up next.

What's next for the storm system, we're going to look at that -- a tornado watch here in Joplin. You have just heard the sirens.

We're also going to talk to a man here who -- a veteran who has seen a lot. He served in Iraq. We will tell you how he survived the storm. It's an amazing story, holding on to the faucets in his -- in his bathroom.

We will also talk to a woman who is already talking about rebuilding. And she's going to tell you how you begin again, how you restart your life, at least how she is going about doing it -- so all that ahead. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Breaking news. A tornado warning in effect here. The sirens started going off just a few minutes ago. They've now stopped. The same line of storms that hit Oklahoma are now just starting to approach us, or starting to hit us, I should say. At least four people were killed in tornadoes and thunderstorms tonight in the central part of Oklahoma.

Joining me now right here is Detective Chris Carriger, who served four tours in Iraq with national authority. He's now on. He survived the Joplin tornado in his bathtub. He crawled out of the rubble. He was disoriented. You thought you were back in Iraq there for a moment, didn't you?

DET. CHRIS CARRIGER, TORNADO SURVIVOR: For a few minutes. With the sights, I could actually see the hospital from where I could see out from my house. It looked like some of the things I'd seen in Baghdad.

COOPER: So -- so when the storm hit, you went to your bathroom, right? What they recommend.

CARRIGER: I heard the sirens. I looked out and I saw things being flown in the air. I ran straight for the bathroom. Actually, I heard things going through the window before I even got there.

COOPER: We're showing some of the pictures of what's left of your house. And also one of them your wife took is of the actually bathtub. You actually just kind of hunkered down in the bathtub, right?

CARRIGER: I just got in there, as big a guy as I am. I just kind of got as much of myself in there as I could. Yes, there's the faucet that I...

COOPER: So you actually held onto the faucet?

CARRIGER: Yes, as things were going, I felt myself being pulled up in the air? And I just...

COOPER: You could actually feel yourself being lifted up?

CARRIGER? My feet were actually being pulled in the air.

COOPER: Because the roof is already off your house?

CARRIGER: Absolutely. Absolutely.

COOPER: Unbelievable. What is that like to feel yourself being lifted? That's got to be terrifying.

CARRIGER: I was kind of numb to the feeling. I was just trying to figure out what I was going to do to keep there. And just kept grabbing for the first thing I had. And that was the faucet. And basically, some debris fell on me and kind of held me down.

COOPER: And you ended up for a couple hours staying in the bathtub?

CARRIGER: It felt like a couple hours. I'm really not sure how long it was.

COOPER: And then you saw a friend of yours in the fire department walking down your street?

CARRIGER: Yes. I was peeping my head out there, and trying to look for people. And I saw Josh Anderson from one of the fire departments. And I hollered at him, and he kept looking around and found that I was there. And then they got other folks, another detective friend of mine lived behind me, they were all coming in, trying to get me out.

COOPER: Unbelievable. Gary Tuchman, our correspondent, is at a shelter with a couple hundred people who are now in a basement because of the storm. Just for people here in Joplin, I mean, what is -- what's this been like? I mean...

CARRIGER: You know, everybody is -- everybody is different. I talk to as many people as I can, as I'm helping out throughout the day. Some people are devastated. Some people are trying to figure out where they're going to go next, what they're going to do next, how they're going to get through it.

I was just trying to -- you know, based on my experience going through Katrina and helping out there and do stuff and some of the other things I've done with the National Guard, I'm just trying to help comfort them and let them know, hey, the American spirit is here. Looking out today going through, I saw American flags tied and posted to everything.

COOPER: A lot of American flags, yes.

CARRIGER: And the American spirit is there. It's strong. We'll get through this. We just have to bond together. We've got, you know, the outpouring of people that have come to help is unreal.

COOPER: Yes. Gary, you're in the shelter right now. How are people doing? Is everybody down in the shelter?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Frankly, Anderson, it's a very chaotic situation. You have people who are not in good health. Some people who are injured from the initial tornado.

And we were just getting prepared to do a live report with you when police officials ran into this huge gymnasium, more than 400 people there, and started screaming "down to the basement, a tornado has been spotted."

And just watching these poor people here, many of whom crying, who lost family members in the initial tornado or lost their own, lost everything, and now they've been hustled down to the basement wondering what the heck is going on in Joplin, Missouri. So it's a very sad time to see the indignities these people are going through, but it's something that's extremely necessary. It's a very hard time for the city.

COOPER: Yes. What's it like to -- You know, you lost your home. We've seen the pictures. And yet you're out there trying to help other people at the same time.

CARRIGER: Yes.

COOPER: How do you do that?

CARRIGER: You know, I've done it for other people. They would do it for me. I've actually run into former colleagues in the military that are police officers that are down here. All the guys, the local guys that know me have come up and, you know, said their -- for their -- for my loss. And if -- but if it was them, I'd be doing it for them. And they're doing it for me.

And there's other people out here. We got to get these people help, too. So, you know, my two hands and back can help out a little bit. That's what I can do.

COOPER: Yes. Well, it's really an honor to meet you.

CARRIGER: Thanks. Not a problem. Not problem.

COOPER: Really incredible. And your wife did an amazing job taking pictures. And you must be proud of her, as well.

CARRIGER: Yes, she was a -- really helping me get out of there. She was hollering and screaming.

COOPER: Thank you very much.

CARRIGER: Appreciate it.

COOPER: I want you to get home and get out of here quickly. The winds are picking up.

CARRIGER: All right. Absolutely.

COOPER: Wow, amazing. Detective Carriger.

Let's bring in Reed Timmer. He's a storm chaser. Saw five or six tornadoes today. He's just east of Oklahoma city. He joins us now.

Reed, I know you're in eastern Oklahoma. How many tornadoes have you seen in the past few hours?

REED TIMMER, STORM CHASER (VIA PHONE): Well, it's died down for us in the last two hours. We usually shut down after nightfall, because it's too dangerous to intercept the tornadoes. We saw five or six throughout the day. The first of which was a really violent wedge. And we were able to intercept it in our armored vehicle and record some data inside that tornado.

COOPER: What kind of damage have you seen so far?

TIMMER: We haven't seen much of the damage directly. We've just kind of been in tornadoes in open territory. We did see one tornado that hit a farm, and it just got lofted way high into the air. It was a very violent tornado. But we didn't see the damage directly. We heard reports.

There was one heading straight for our house in Norman, Oklahoma, that weakened about five miles to the southwest. And I was really worried for my friends and family in central Oklahoma today.

COOPER: And is the area you're in out of the woods right now?

TIMMER: Yes, right now we're behind the line of storms. But here in a little bit we're going to start heading east on Interstate 40, and we're targeting eastern Arkansas and eastern Missouri for a potentially significant tornado outbreak tomorrow, as well.

So this season keeps getting more and more crazy. And I hope it doesn't continue. This damage is definitely something we don't want to see.

COOPER: Yes. Certainly a lot of people in pain tonight in Oklahoma and our thoughts are with them, as well as the people here in Joplin. Reed, appreciate you joining us. Thank you very much.

The winds have really started to pick up here, and the temperature is dropping significantly. It's now getting chilly here.

When we come back, we're going to take you-- show you some of the damage here in Joplin. It is -- I got to tell you, it's just hard to absorb. And as one person said to me today, the pictures really just don't do it justice.

We'll have also the latest on rescue efforts and another survivor story. The search for a missing toddler, the search for a missing mom, also who was in her car when the tornado hit.

So much to tell you about. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back to breaking news. A tornado warning is in effect here. Again, I want to emphasize the location that we have, we feel very good about. We spent hours selecting this location next to a very strong building, protected by winds on two sides. So we also have a fallback location we can go to immediately if -- if events warrant it.

Ali Velshi is actually at the Waffle House where they're getting word that a tornado may have touched down. Ali, what are you hearing?

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR (via phone): You know, Anderson, we had been at the site in the middle of Joplin where you -- near where you were. And it was -- it had been sort of evacuated, because this electrical storm was moving in. So we moved to the last place where we had seen people, which was the Waffle House.

And as we approached a full restaurant, which is where everybody was, emptied out, people started moving into the back of the restaurant because they were getting texts and messages that there had been a tornado -- the atmospheric pressure had indicated that there was -- it was likely to happen. An emergency worker then told me that he had a confirmation somehow of a tornado nearby, and really activity on the street just suddenly dropped. People started heading indoors. Even activity on the highway. I'm right on the edge of Interstate 44 right now at Joplin. And it's dropped dramatically.

The skies, as you can see, just as I can, are lighting up with a good deal of electrical activity. We've just gone across the road now to a Marriott Hotel where they've got a shelter. We're not in it, but we are -- we are nearby in the event that we need to get into it. And we're just sort of monitoring.

As you can see, it's starting to rain and then it stops a little bit, and at moments it feels a little more intense than at others. But certainly, the sky and the activity on the street and that thunder we're hearing indicates a bad weather night, one way or the other.

COOPER: Ali, thanks very much.

I want to go to Chad Myers, who's tracking the storm. Chad, what are you seeing?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I can see the rotation on Doppler radar. And our meteorologist, Sean Morris (ph), actually has been on the Internet there with Sky Warn, and that's where that on-the-ground word came from, near neutral which is back out here in Kansas.

You are here. Here's Joplin right here. Ali, you're right there at the Waffle House. Here's downtown Joplin. And the circulation is way up here. And Anderson, if I knew you were in trouble, I would tell you to leave. You are not in any danger right there. You are just fine right. There's that rotation. There's the red and the green together.

This is like when you stand at a -- or sit there at a train crossing, and the train goes by you, the whistle sounds different from one way and the other way. Literally, the radar is listening for the change in direction of the wind, and it found it here, right there as it moved on up toward and even to the west of Webb City. And there's another couple towns near. Joplin proper is absolutely fine right now. Even though the warning is still going, you're OK.

I only have one other thing to say about that for Carl Junction, because we're in kind of that circulation is going. Anderson, this is what you're in right now. There's a much bigger cell, although not rotating yet, still to your southwest that still may be there in another 30 minutes.

COOPER: All right. Well, Chad, I appreciate that. That's going to be good news for a lot of people in Joplin.

You know, there's a lot of rumors floating around. A lot of, obviously, tensions are high here. And again, just because I'm getting some sense that some people are thinking we're being irresponsible, we have a fallback location that we can go to immediately. And again, we spent hours finding this location, and we feel very good about it. We're not looking to take any risk for any reason.

Gary Tuchman is joining us in a shelter not too far from where we are. He's on the phone.

Gary, that is certainly good news, I don't know if you could hear that from Chad, that the activity is to the north of us at this point. And Chad, certainly should jump in at any point and tell us if that changes. But folks are still down in the shelter as a precaution right, Gary?

TUCHMAN: Right. I wish Chad could come in the basement here with us. Because there's a lot of crying. There's a lot of praying right now, and a lot of authorities telling people that they must stay downstairs. Do not walk up the steps, because the tornadoes been spotted nearby. At least, that's what these people are being told.

This is the largest shelter in Joplin, Anderson. More than 400 people are here, and about 20 minutes ago, people ran into the shelter on the upper level of the gymnasium here in Missouri Southern State University and started yelling at everyone, "Run down to the basement, run down to the basement." And people started sprinting, the people who could sprint. Other people who were in wheelchairs and carried oxygen tanks and crutches weren't able to sprint. But they were scared, and they're still scared. And we see a lot of tears. And we're trying to reassure people. We've got two halves, journalist halves and then the college's halves, just dealing with people the best we can, just telling them they'll be OK. They're in the safest place they could possibly be, in a very well-fortified building in the basement.

But it's a very sad scene right now as hundreds of people, many of them who've lost relatives, many of them who lost their homes, are in this shelter fearing a tornado is closing in on them.

COOPER: Yes. Gary, we'll continue to check in with you as we continue to track this storm.

When we come back, I just want to show you how resilient the people here are in Joplin. And I know that's a word tossed around a lot on TV, and it becomes a cliche. But you know, some cliches are true. And just the strength of people here is really inspiring. You're going to meet a woman named Sally Smith, who we met today as she was literally picking up the pieces of her life and helping out her mom. You'll meet here. The question we wanted to ask her is how do you start rebuilding? How do you restart your life? Her answers ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: And welcome back.

You know, we've been covering the story of Will Norton, who's the young man -- the young man who just had graduated -- just had graduated high school, was driving back from the graduation ceremony with his father and, when the storm hit, got sucked out of his SUV. His father is in the hospital recovering, but Will has not been -- been seen since.

His family did get some word yesterday that his name was on a list at one of the hospitals here. Let's get the latest on what's going on with Will Norton.

Let's talk to his aunt, Tracey, who joins us on the phone, Tracey Presslor.

Tracey, you're indoors and you're safe, correct?

TRACEY PRESSLOR, WILL NORTON'S AUNT (via phone): We're actually in the basement, Anderson, yes.

COOPER: OK, great. All right, good. What's the latest on the search for Will?

PRESSLOR: We have a lead today that he was probably in Springfield, Missouri. My niece and my sister-in-law actually drove there with my cousin to see, and it was not Will.

COOPER: In the hospital?

PRESSLOR: In a hospital at St. John's in Springfield, there is a male. And I passed that information on to Lance Hare (ph), his family, and they were going to check it out themselves.

COOPER: So there was an unidentified young male in that hospital, but it was not Will?

PRESSLOR: It was not Will, and there is a possibility that that roster we were told that Will was on at Freeman Hospital, that maybe he was not on that roster. But we are not giving up hope, because we know so far that Will is not in the morgues. So we still have hope that he's somewhere. We just don't know where. He could still be out on the ground somewhere, waiting for someone to find him.

COOPER: So last night, you had been told that he had been checked into a hospital in Joplin, and then transferred somebody else. Somebody had told you that, and that's what you told us. But at this point, now you're hearing maybe that's not the case?

PRESSLOR: That's correct. So we don't really know. And we also had somebody posting on our Internet site on the Find Will Norton page that he was found deceased, and that is not true. So people are, you know, spreading bad rumors out there.

COOPER: Yes. And you know -- and that's the danger. When you put out a number, you're going to get some crazy people who are, you know, doing things which are inappropriate. And we urge people to please -- not to do that.

How many hospitals have you been able to check?

PRESSLOR: I would say at this point, we've probably checked, I know, probably about 150 so far. And we've actually found several Jane Does as close as Pittsburgh, Kansas, and Kansas City. You know, there's another John Doe, a 60-year-old proximate male, white male in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And there's one that's a young male adult, in Springfield that has serious facial lacerations.

So we know there are quite a few unidentified people in this area, that they're out there. So if people have family members that are missing, don't give up hope. Just like us, don't give up hope, but also be a realist that we just really need to pray.

COOPER: Yes. Well, Tracey, stay strong and please send my thoughts and prayers to your family. We're putting -- we've put a lot of Will's pictures up. We've been tweeting about him. We put the numbers and the Gmail account also on the screen. We'll continue to follow you, and just stay strong.

PRESSLOR: Anderson, thank you so very much.

COOPER: Tracey -- Tracey, you're in our thoughts and in our prayers tonight, as is Will.

Joplin has about 25,000 buildings before the tornado hit. Fully half of them were either damaged or destroyed. That's the number. Now before they said about 30 percent. Now they're saying about half.

According to one estimate, damages could reach $3 billion. Block after block, just piles of rubble. And you see these pictures and you wonder how do you start rebuilding? How do you start rebuilding life? And that's kind of what we were wondering as we went around town today and talked to people. Here's what we saw.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): How do you begin to rebuild? How do you decide where to start? Sally Smith is figuring it out.

SALLY SMITH, TORNADO SURVIVOR: I'm finding stuff over here and I'm also finding stuff over there. So I don't even know where to start looking.

COOPER: We first met Sally in what remains of the living room of her mother's home.

(on camera) Is it all right if we stand up there? So this was sort of a fire...

SMITH: Fireplace. And the piano. We had, of course -- had windows. The couch was here. I don't know where the couch is.

COOPER (voice-over): Sally's mother, Marge, is 80 and survived the storm in her sister's house nearby. She doesn't yet know her home is gone. Sally and her family are hoping to find some personal belongings to cushion the blow.

SMITH: The first thing we did was look for jewelry. You know, things that my grandmother had given her.

COOPER (on camera): Things that had sentimental value. SMITH: Sentimental value. Then I looked for clothes. Now we're just going through pots, plans, plates, things -- functional things that she can use to rebuild her life.

COOPER: That's how you begin rebuilding?

SMITH: Yes.

COOPER: Just little pieces here and there?

SMITH: Yes, yes.

COOPER (voice-over): Some of her mother's doll collection survived the tornado. Sally still can't believe what she's seeing.

SMITH: Overwhelmed. I just -- I told my husband this morning, I'm just overwhelmed. I just don't know. I don't know what I'm going to do. It will work out. It will. But I've never -- I've never been through anything like this in my life, ever.

COOPER: That's the kind of thing you always see on the news.

SMITH: You see it. And we keep seeing pictures, and I keep telling people that doesn't do it justice.

COOPER (voice-over): Most of the upstairs of the house is gone.

(on camera) This is your bedroom when...

SMITH: This is my bedroom when I was growing up. You could see all the way to Home Depot. It was just...

COOPER: It's incredible, from the Home Depot, I mean, they're -- it's literally as far as the eye can see all the way around.

SMITH: It's just gone. Wal-Mart, I mean, you could see Wal- Mart. It's just right there. It's gone.

COOPER (voice-over): Sally's home survived the storm. But her employer was badly hit. She's not sure if she still has a job.

(on camera) You're wearing a T-shirt that says, "Life is good."

SMITH: Life is good. Life is good. God is not going to give us anything we cannot handle. And I know this hand. I've seen too many things. We will be fine. Saying goodbye to things is hard, you know, but it's life. We go on.

COOPER: You're about the most optimistic person I think I've met in a long time.

SMITH: I don't know. I just -- like I said, life goes on. You cannot -- you cannot fall apart over things like this.

COOPER (voice-over): You can't fall apart, and so she doesn't. That's how you rebuild, she tells me. That's how you restart. You stay strong. You pick up the pieces, and you start one by one.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Some other important stories that we're following tonight. Let's check in with Joe Johns. He's got a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, in Libya, it's the heaviest onslaught since NATO air strikes began. At least 18 rockets hit Tripoli today, including new explosions near Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi's compound. A government official says 19 people died and 150 were wounded in today's strikes.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, told a joint meeting of Congress today that Israel will be generous on the size of a Palestinian state but more demanding on where the border is drawn.

The wreckage of the military helicopter used in the raid in Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan is back in the United States. The Pentagon confirmed the wreckage arrived over the weekend.

Plenty of bombshells in the first day of Casey Anthony's murder trial in Florida. In opening statements, the defense said 2-year-old Caylee accidentally drowned in the family's swimming pool, and Casey's father, George Anthony, helped cover it up. The defense also said George Anthony sexually abused his daughter, Casey. George Anthony denied that.

And ash from Iceland's volcano eruption have forced airlines in Britain to cancel about 500 flights, and two airports in Germany will be closed. -- Anderson.

COOPER: Joe, thanks very much.

Our breaking news coverage continues throughout the night and tomorrow on American morning. Thanks for watching. Our news continues. We'll take a short break.