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Photographer's account of arriving at school in wake of tornado

Sue Ogrocki is an Associated Press photographer based in Oklahoma. She was among the first to arrive at Plaza Towers school after it was destroyed by the tornado. She has written about her experiences of reporting on the devastation.

As soon as I saw the tornado warnings on TV, I had to leave the office right away.

I had photographed about a dozen tornadoes in my decade in Oklahoma and if I didn't get into my car before the funnel cloud swept through, I knew I would get stuck in traffic and arrive too late at the scene.

By the time I got to Moore, all I could see was destruction.

Mangled pieces of metal wrapped up in bare tree limbs.

Adults carrying children in their arms. Shredded pieces of wood, cinder block and insulation strewn on the ground.

Two girls stand in the rubble after the tornado hits Moore, Oklahoma. Credit: REUTERS/Gene Blevins

I walked across a field littered with debris toward a group of people standing by a heaping mound of rubble too big to be a home.

A woman told me it was a school and that students had hid in hallways and bathrooms as the massive tornado struck.

I expected chaos as I approached the piles of bricks and twisted metal where Plaza Towers Elementary once stood but was surprised by how calm and orderly everything was.

Police and firefighters used bars to try to lift a large chunk of a wall up as they pulled children out one-by-one from underneath.

Parents and neighbourhood residents stood in a line helping to pass the children from one set of arms to another out of harm's way.

Two firefighters break through concrete during the search for survivors in the remains of the Plaza Towers Elementary School. Credit: Maj. Geoff Legler/Oklahoma National Guard/Handout via Reuters

A little boy was lifted from under the wall and rescuers were going to start passing him to the line of volunteers, but his dad was there.

As the boy called out for him, they were reunited.

I spent about 30 minutes at Plaza Towers and photographed about a dozen children who were pulled from under the rubble.

I focused my lens on them. Some of the children looked dazed and others seemed terrified. But they were all alive.

I know students are among those who died in the tornado, but for a moment, there was hope in the devastation.

Sue Ogrocki is an Associated Press photographer, based in Oklahoma.

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