TODAY   |  May 21, 2013

Okla. governor: Rescues are ‘first priority’

Mary Fallin, governor of Oklahoma, talks to TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie about the aftermath of the devastating tornado that hit the state Monday, saying it’s difficult to know the full impact yet as bad cell phone service is impacting communication.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> reporter: i turn to governor mary fallin monitoring everything that's going on. thank you for being with us this morning.

>> thank you for being here.

>> reporter: let's confirm the latest facts as you know them, as we understand i think we have confirmed 41 -- 51 deaths.

>> 51 deaths we know of so far and of course we still have and have been in the recovery rescue stage, it was our most important task yesterday was that the storm field was so big that we had a massive amount of areas, almost 20 miles is what i understand it, some areas almost two miles wide of homes and businesses that were lost, so our first and foremost priority was rescuing people and finding those that might have been lost.

>> beyond the 51 reported dead, there is a report there's an additional 40. can you confirm that?

>> i can't confirm that. one of the things we've had challenges with is that our cell phone service and telephone service throughout the city has been dead. immediately after the tornado struck, i couldn't even call my own cabinet secretaries . we had to use handheld radios to get in touch with people. it's very challenging with the phone network, south power has been out in this area and there was so much going on at this particular time people rushing up to the scenes coming in from all over and certainly it's a tragic day for the state of oklahoma and our hearts are broken for the parents that lost their children, broken for other families that have lost not only loved ones but certainly their homes.

>> reporter: you mentioned the search for survivors, the rescue efforts. is this still a search for survivors today?

>> well i'm not going to give up hope. if there are people that aren't accounted for i'll keep hope, keep prayer for those people to be recovered. i'm very, very proud of the first responders and all the work that everyone has done. it was absolutely an incredible scene at the site itself during the day and late into the ours last night especially at the school site as you've been showing this morning. i was down there and right up on the spot where the firefighters were literally lifting bricks and debris and cutting through metal and concrete and hand by hand passing those chunks of debris off so they could get underneath the fallen walls to find if there were children.

>> reporter: quickly before i let you go, can you characterize the magnitude of the damage you have seen?

>> i've had the opportunity to be in office 23 years so i've been through the may 3rd tornado, i was here when the april 19th bombing hit oklahoma city , destroyed the federal building . to me, this is bigger than anything i've ever seen. it's absolutely huge. it's horrific. it looked like somebody just set off something that just destroyed structures, not blocks, but miles of areas, and major buildings from hospitals to schools to banks to shopping centers , movie theaters. it's absolutely incredible.

>> reporter: governor mary fallin , the work on recovery begins today. thank you for spending time with us this morning. we appreciate it.