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Heartbreaking scenes in Oklahoma City area after twister

By Nick Valencia and Phil Gast, CNN
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Tue May 21, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "There were horses and stuff flying around everywhere," says Lando Hite
  • NEW: Kids and parents in parking lot search for each other
  • One man: "My security is not in my hands. It is in the Lord's"

Are you experiencing severe weather in your area? Send photos and videos to CNN iReport. But please remember to stay safe.

For local coverage of Monday's devastating storms in Oklahoma, go to these CNN affiliates: KFOR, KOCO, KOKH, KOKI

Moore, Oklahoma (CNN) -- Kids screamed for their parents and parents hollered their children's names, walking and searching in panic in the parking lot of Briarwood Elementary in Moore, Oklahoma. The tornado that wrecked their town had just left. The sky behind them was still dark. Rain fell in a light mist.

"Caleb! Caleb!" one woman could be heard screaming, as another woman, bloody-faced, walked zombie-like through the crowd, holding a young boy's hand.

"Step over the wire!" someone shouted. Adults and children zig-zagged past each other. One man went to a little boy standing alone whose face was just then cracking into a full-out cry. The man put his arm around the kid and they both looked out into the chaotic parking lot, both apparently searching for the boy's parents.

One mother who spotted her son sitting with his teacher on a curb, gently grabbed the boy's hands and stood him up and then learned her whole body over him, hugging him. She cried and then laughed and cupped his face.

The teacher said, "He was so brave!"

A message is left by a homeowner who lost his home in the May 20 tornado on Monday, May 27, in Moore, Oklahoma. View more photos of the aftermath in the region and another gallery of aerial shots of the damage. A message is left by a homeowner who lost his home in the May 20 tornado on Monday, May 27, in Moore, Oklahoma. View more photos of the aftermath in the region and another gallery of aerial shots of the damage.
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
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The mother then embraced the teacher. "Thank you," she wept, "thank you."

Another man who appeared to be a teacher held his arm up and shouted, "5th graders!" But, of course, parents and kids continued to wander, desperate, scared out of their minds. It was a valiant effort though -- trying to offer order and comfort where none could be found.

Oklahomans on Tuesday morning are trying very hard to be there for each other. Many are just beginning to grapple with the idea that they'll never see the person they loved most in the world again.The death toll has surpassed 90 and will probably climb. Seven school children were reported dead.

Homes in the tornado's path were reduced to match sticks. Whole city blocks were flattened and unrecognizable. Cars were tossed like toys, some sitting in enormous trees suddenly reduced to a single gnarly wishbone. There is no power, no water.

The sun provided much needed light, and the full realization of what had happened was setting in. Many in Moore are beginning to face the fact that they lost photos and family heirlooms that cannot be replaced. Many are probably thinking about the insurance battle ahead, or the money issues that even the most prepared for a natural disaster have to deal with.

How to help

A vigil at smashed school

The father sat on a stool, tears in his eyes as a firefighter comforted him.

He awaited news of his son, a third-grader at Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore.

The twister reduced the school to a pile of rubble. Seven children died, said Oklahoma City Police Department spokesman Kevin Parton.

Students who got out said they hugged and clung to walls as the tornado passed through, according to CNN affiliate KFOR.

One teacher told KFOR she lay on top of six students in the bathroom. All made it out alive.

Only a few walls remained standing. People rushed to the site, but officials kept them at a distance as they continued searching for survivors.

Norma Bautista told CNN she rushed to the school, found her child and nieces and nephews and took them away.

"I am speechless as how this happened, why it happened," she said. "How do we explain it to the kids?"

Her son, Julio, said teachers told students to crouch and cover their heads.

As the grim search continued at the school, there was some happy news at a home nearby. Neighbors clapped as a woman was reunited with her dog found in a house.

1999: They've been through this before

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The movie 'Twister' comes to life

"You just wanna break down and cry," Steve Wilkinson told CNN. "But you know that's how it goes, you gotta be strong and keep going,"

He's lived in Oklahoma his whole life. He's seen tornadoes before. "But nothing like this one," he said.

Monday night, another woman got a text from her son Cody who started walking down a major street in Moore and saw his grandmother walking dazed along the road with her Yorkie. "Grandmas is fine," the boy texted. "She is at my house. Mom, everything is gone. There is nothing left, anywhere. All of the pictures, all grandma's stuff, all my pictures, my letter jacket, my college degree from OU. There's nothing left."

In another part of Moore, Lando Hite was shirtless and muddy all over as he described what happened at a horse and entertainment farm.

"It was just like the movie 'Twister,' " he told CNN affiliate KFOR. "There were horses and stuff flying around everywhere."

The tornado slammed into the Orr Family Farm, which had about 80 horses. It damaged several barns; Hite was worried that most of the animals had been killed.

"I tried to let some of the horses out of their stalls so that they would have a chance," said Hite, who said the building he was in was moved about 100 feet.

The 10 deadliest U.S. tornadoes on record

'The Lord took care of us'

One resident of Moore put his situation into perspective. His home was gone, as were years worth of belongings.

But he and his wife were alive.

"The Lord took care of us," said the man, 72. "My security is not in my hands. It is in the Lord's."

Monday night, Steve Wilkerson, whose home was destroyed, carried what few belongings he could find in a laundry basket.

"I still can't believe this is happening," he said. "You work 20 years, and then it's gone in 15 minutes."

A couple told CNN they lost their home but were able to help others.

"We started getting people out," said one of them, trying to keep his emotions in check. "We saw some unfortunate things, but we helped some people."

A native son speaks out

Country singer Toby Keith, a native of Moore, lamented the loss of live and devastation.

"There have been so many tornadoes come through there but I don't ever remember one hitting an elementary school right square on the button like this one did," Keith told CNN's Anderson Cooper.

The singer left the Oklahoma City area for Nashville a few hours before the storm struck. His sister's home was among those damaged.

Keith told Cooper that Oklahomans are resilient and well-prepared for severe weather. "Rise again Moore Oklahoma. Godspeed," he tweeted.

Follow the severe weather tracker

CNN's Nick Valencia, Gary Tuchman and George Howell reported from Oklahoma. Phil Gast reported and wrote from Atlanta.

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