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When the tornado hit, they were ready

By CNN Heroes Staff
updated 6:52 PM EDT, Thu May 23, 2013
  • A trio of CNN Heroes are helping the recovery efforts in Moore, Oklahoma
  • Tad Agoglia and his group brought specialized equipment to dig through the rubble
  • Wilma Melville's organization provided search dogs to look for survivors
  • Jake Wood has mobilized a team of military veterans to help families rebuild

(CNN) -- When an EF5 tornado touched down in Moore, Oklahoma, this week, Tad Agoglia and his First Response Team of America were stationed at a hotel about 30 miles away, ready to take action.

About two hours after the storm hit, they were already on the scene using their specialized equipment to dig through the rubble at Plaza Towers Elementary School.

"We were digging up an area of the school we thought there could be some young children trapped," said Agoglia, a 2008 CNN Hero. "Seeing the desks, pieces of paper children had written on, it just stopped me in my tracks, and it reminded me of why I do what I do every day."

In the last six years, Agoglia's group has responded to more than 50 large-scale disasters, including the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and Hurricane Sandy in New York. The group owns cranes to lift heavy debris, and it has plasma cutters that can slice through steel beams and concrete.

Agoglia said that when he and his team arrived in Moore, they knew immediately that there would be an enormous need. They plan to stay and help as many people as they can over the next several weeks before hurricane season gets into full swing.

CNN Heroes update: Tad Agoglia
CNN Hero: Wilma Melville
CNN Hero: Jake Wood

Another group founded by a CNN Hero, the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, has also been helping in the recovery efforts. It mobilized 10 teams of dogs and their handlers to search for survivors buried in the rubble.

"This tornado showed us nature's rage at its worst," said Wilma Melville, a 2011 CNN Hero. She said her team "specifically placed four teams in Oklahoma City and four in Tulsa, Oklahoma, so that they would be near areas of anticipated tornado activity. Speedy search capability is a wonderful asset."

The teams searched schools, homes and a bowling alley leveled by the storm, which led one handler to text when he arrived on scene: "Devastation. Near tears."

Also helping out is Team Rubicon, a group of military veterans who work together to help communities hit by natural disasters. Founded by 2012 CNN Hero Jake Wood, it has 30 members on the ground now and is mobilizing hundreds more from across the country.

"This is every bit as bad as Joplin," said Wood, referring to the Missouri tornado from May 2011. "Many of our volunteers were at Joplin almost exactly two years ago, and many of us thought we'd never see that level of destruction again."

Larger crews will arrive in Moore on Saturday to help with recovery efforts, including cleaning up debris and fixing homes. Wood anticipates having about 250 veterans helping over the next several weeks.

Want to get involved? Click here to find out ways you can help the victims in Moore.

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