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Stories of survival emerge from Moore, OK

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Updated: 5/21/2013 8:38 pm
MOORE, Okla. -- The view from above is heart-wrenching.  New aerial images show nothing but leveled land.

Tuesday, survivors are left with the daunting task of combing through what used to be their homes looking for any memories they can salvage.  Most lost everything. Many lost their lives.

"A couple houses down, that's where they started seeing fatalities so that's kind of ... sobering," said survivor Daniel Garbelman.

Garbelman stood watching as the tornado took over his town.

"I saw the wall cloud come over the trees, I saw the debris coming at us, thought it was the wall cloud. It was actually the tornado, it was pretty big."

Garbelman and his wife, daughter and four cats all climbed into the bathtub to hide.  He says it lasted for about 40 seconds. Their ears popped as it passed.

"The thing that really got me was when things started hitting the house strong enough to shake the house."

Nate Billings is a staff photographer for The Oklahoman.  He was one of the first to ground zero with his camera. 

"It's amazing to see the power of what Mother Nature can do," he said.

He snapped photos of hope amid total destruction, families reunited and strangers bringing trapped animals to safety.

"When you're first on the scene, it's hard to tell how big it is, but it just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger, the area of destruction."

While homeowners stand in awe at what is left of their community, rescue crews continue combing through the wood, concrete, twisted metal and glass. 

"There are empty spaces where there used to be living rooms. And bedrooms. And classrooms," President Barack Obama said.

New images are emerging of children being pulled from the rubble, bloody, battered, but they are survivors.

Briarwood Elementary was demolished. But astonishingly, no fatalities were reported there.

"All the desks were on top of us and the teacher got stuck and so someone had to help her because the desk was on her leg," said student Isabella Rojas.

Teachers were seen carrying the kids away from the debris. They held them until parents could wrap them in their own arms.

Plaza Towers Elementary wasn't as lucky. This school took a direct hit. Very little is left. Seven kids died inside. 

"We had a wall fall on the children," said Moore Police Chief Jerry Stilling.

Stilling thinks everyone is now accounted for there. 

Crews worked through the night combing through the sprawling devastation -- with thermal imaging at night and search dogs by day.

"It looked like a war zone.  It just looked like bombs had been ignited everywhere," said one survivor.

The reality of this tragedy is just starting to sink in.  Recovery is still a long way off.

"Everything's gone," she said.  "Just in the matter of thirty minutes, your whole life is whole life is torn upside down."

Broken homes, but a resilient town.  And they're ready to once again pick up the pieces and carry on.
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