Quantcast

AP photographer shares story of watching kids being pulled from Okla. school

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 1 2015 8:31 p.m. MDT

Teachers carry children away from Briarwood Elementary school after a tornado destroyed the school in south Oklahoma City, Okla, Monday, May 20, 2013. Near SW 149th and Hudson.  (Paul Hellstern, Associated Press) Teachers carry children away from Briarwood Elementary school after a tornado destroyed the school in south Oklahoma City, Okla, Monday, May 20, 2013. Near SW 149th and Hudson. (Paul Hellstern, Associated Press)

Oklahoma City-based AP photographer Sue Ogrocki was at the elementary school destroyed by a tornado and saw rescuers pulling children out of the rubble. This is her account of what she witnessed.

MOORE, Okla. — I left the office in Oklahoma City as soon as I saw the tornado warnings on TV. I had photographed about a dozen twisters in the past decade, and knew that if I didn't get in my car before the funnel cloud hit, it would be too late.

By the time I reached Moore, all I could see was destruction. I walked toward a group of people standing by a heaping mound of rubble too big to be a home. A woman told me it had been a school.

I expected chaos as I approached the piles of bricks and twisted metal where Plaza Towers Elementary once stood. Instead, it was calm and orderly as police and firefighters pulled children out one by one from beneath a large chunk of a collapsed wall.

Moore police dig through the rubble of the Plaza Towers Elementary School following a tornado in Moore, Okla., Monday, May 20, 2013. A tornado as much as a mile (1.6 kilometers) wide with winds up to 200 mph (320 kph) roared through the Oklahoma City suburbs Monday, flattening entire neighborhoods, setting buildings on fire and landing a direct blow on an elementary school.  (Sue Ogrocki, Associated Press) Moore police dig through the rubble of the Plaza Towers Elementary School following a tornado in Moore, Okla., Monday, May 20, 2013. A tornado as much as a mile (1.6 kilometers) wide with winds up to 200 mph (320 kph) roared through the Oklahoma City suburbs Monday, flattening entire neighborhoods, setting buildings on fire and landing a direct blow on an elementary school. (Sue Ogrocki, Associated Press)

Parents and neighborhood volunteers stood in a line and passed the rescued children from one set of arms to another, carrying them out of harm's way. Adults carried the children through a field littered with shredded pieces of wood, cinder block and insulation to a triage center in a parking lot.

They worked quickly and quietly so rescuers could try to hear voices of children trapped beneath the rubble.

Crews lifted one boy from under the wall and were about to pass him along the human chain, but his dad was there. As the boy called out for him, they were reunited.

In the 30 minutes that I was outside the destroyed school, I photographed about a dozen children pulled from the rubble.

I focused my lens on each one of them. Some looked dazed. Some cried. Others seemed terrified.

But they were alive.

I know that some students were among those who died in the tornado, but for a moment, there was hope in the devastation.

Rescue workers dig through the rubble of a collapsed wall at the Plaza Tower Elementary School to free trapped students in Moore, Okla., following a tornado Monday, May 20, 2013. A tornado as much as a mile (1.6 kilometers) wide with winds up to 200 mph (320 kph) roared through the Oklahoma City suburbs Monday, flattening entire neighborhoods, setting buildings on fire and landing a direct blow on an elementary school. (Sue Ogrocki, Associated Press) Rescue workers dig through the rubble of a collapsed wall at the Plaza Tower Elementary School to free trapped students in Moore, Okla., following a tornado Monday, May 20, 2013. A tornado as much as a mile (1.6 kilometers) wide with winds up to 200 mph (320 kph) roared through the Oklahoma City suburbs Monday, flattening entire neighborhoods, setting buildings on fire and landing a direct blow on an elementary school. (Sue Ogrocki, Associated Press)

AP Photographer Sue Ogrocki has worked in Oklahoma for more than 10 years where she has covered about a dozen tornadoes.

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company