The 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.
MOORE, Okla. - After darkness fell over this tornado-stricken city on Monday night and Tuesday morning, rescuers confronted a strange and grim tableau.Trees were wrapped with aluminum and downed powerlines ran over streams from broken water mains. In a city with so many ruined homes - and at least 51 dead after an enormous twister cranked through the southern Oklahoma City suburb - call after call for victims went without answer."First responders! Do you need any help?" shouted one nurse who picked through a home without a roof and without a door.Moore police officials told local television news early Tuesday that "hundreds" of people had been rescued overnight.
Flashlights flicked over mud-spattered walls and lawns strewn with battered vehicles.Somebody noticed the strong smell of a gas leak. Another searcher then lit a cigarette, and nobody said anything.The day and night had been long, and the work grim.
"Is there anybody in here? Anybody in here? Hello!"Silence.A strict police cordon around the city during its first night after the twister diverted many gawkers, reporters, volunteers and even emergency officials away from Moore's disheveled interior.Military troops from multiple branches checked and rechecked storm-blasted homes only to discover nobody, but occasionally recovering ceremonial flags and old police memorabilia for their noticeably absent owners.
Homeowners were among those turned back at the police cordons, and for at least one night, Moore belonged totally to the rescuers."I don't know what's going to happen," said Bridgette Wallace, a nurse from southern Oklahoma City who arrived earlier in the afternoon to help search and was now waiting for another neighborhood to check.Some blocks had floodlights to aid with the checks; much more of the city was lit only by another approaching thunderstorm and the persistent circlings of a search helicopter.Much of the search focused on the rubble of the Plaza Towers Elementary School, where a large number of children were still feared dead. As the night progressed, officials scooted reporters away from the tragic scene.
Salvation Army Lt. John Autry, standing in front of an impressive ziggurat of bottled water and boxes of Pop-Tarts and doughnuts, had also been turned back at the police cordon before persistence - and common sense - won him entry.He was, after all, here to feed everybody, particularly the weary firefighters drifting in and out for brief breaks before filing off to another ruined section of the city.Autry, a Moore resident, had watched the mighty twister drop right out of the sky and start to "churn, churn, churn" like crazy. He told his wife, who was hiding in her closet, to instead drive away from the storm. The funnel spared their home by "a sixteenth of a mile," he said."I've been through eight hurricanes, and I'd never seen something like this," he added, while goading first responders to eat.As Moore residents pondered what uncertainties awaited them at daylight, a similarly sad contingent sat in cages in front of the local Home Depot.They were lost dogs, among 42 dogs, cats and birds that had been found "roaming, under rubble, tied to trees in the hopes that somebody would come back for them," said Eric McCune, 39, of Oklahoma City, who runs a care group called the Bella Foundation.
Inside the Home Depot was the pet triage where volunteer vets decided if the rescues needed emergency care. One pomeranian didn't make it.Out front were the lucky ones: Almost a dozen dogs, at least momentarily ownerless, laying with their heads bowed as one of their brethren barked inconsolably.