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Article updated: 5/21/2013 8:49 AM

Photographer witnesses hope amid devastation as kids are pulled from school

A woman carries a child through a field near the collapsed Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Okla., Monday, May 20, 2013.

A woman carries a child through a field near the collapsed Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Okla., Monday, May 20, 2013.

 

Associated Press

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By Associated Press

Editor's note: 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.

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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.

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.

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