MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

May 22, 2013

Harrowing scene inside school

MOORE — Kelly Law and other teachers marshaled students into the main hallway and central bathrooms at Plaza Towers Elementary School just before Monday’s tornado ripped apart the building with winds up to 200 mph.

“It sounded like somebody was going through with a mower and hitting a tin roof,” said Law, a teacher’s assistant. “… I had my eyes shut. All of us teachers were covering as many heads as we could.”

Nine children were among at least two dozen people killed by Monday’s tornado in Moore and Oklahoma City, according to the latest death toll reported by The Associated Press. Some victims were said to be inside Plaza Towers.

Law said she didn’t know of anyone who died, though she worried about a third-grade class in an auxiliary building behind the main part of the school.

“We were safe,” she said. “All of the outside rooms - completely demolished. All of our cars were tossed over.”

The massive tornado spun along a path eerily similar to that of a May 3, 1999, tornado that killed 43 people in Moore.

“It’s just hard to believe something like this could happen again to Moore,” said Gov. Mary Fallin, during a press conference outside Moore City Hall on Monday. “Our prayers and thoughts are with the Oklahoma families that have been hit hard by this terrible storm.”

While the death toll from Monday’s storm was reported to be as high as 91, the state medical examiner revised the number to 24 on Tuesday, according to the AP. It was expected to change yet again - most likely getting worse.

Monday’s storm formed southwest of the Oklahoma City metro area and moved parallel to Interstate 44 before turning east through Moore and parts of southwest Oklahoma City.

At Plaza Towers, Law said many parents had picked up their children by the time the tornado hit, around 3 p.m. “I hope and pray that all of them got home,” she said.

After the storm, she helped usher children to safety in the Warren Theatres near Interstate 35. A parking lot outside was being used as for triage. Ambulances were lined up like cabs at an airport.

“Last I knew, they were searching for people,” Law of the school. “The police and everybody were going back there, and they started going back there with dogs. The whole neighborhood was gone.”

Crews searched through the remains of Plaza Towers into the night, finding some survivors beneath a collapsed wall and piles of rubble. The students looked dazed and terrified as they emerged, according to witnesses, then were passed down a chain of parents and volunteers.

Scenes of destruction seemed endless throughout the city.

Moore Medical Center, a full-service hospital and emergency room, was completely gutted. Across the street, a neighborhood was flattened. Across the interstate, a few blocks south of Main Street, another neighborhood was destroyed.

The tornado also destroyed another elementary school in Moore, Briarwood, though the human cost there was unknown late Monday night.

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