TODAY   |  May 22, 2013

‘I lost everything’: Tornado victims face wreckage

As the scope of devastation becomes clear, residents of Moore, Okla., are beginning to sort through the wreckage of their homes for any memories they can salvage. NBC’s Lester Holt reports.

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

>> let's get to the very latest. lester holt is, of course, here in moore, oklahoma , as he has been for the last couple of days. lester, good morning.

>> good morning. all day tuesday, i was watching stunned residents walking into this neighborhood. it must feel like they're walking into a nightmare. they're going through a range of emotions, that sense of relief that they escaped scenes like this, but also profound loss. on the day after this tornado ripped the through the town of moore, oklahoma , dramatic stories of survival in neighborhoods where little remains in tact.

>> she came running to us. she was fine. but everything's gone.

>> reporter: this couple also lost their home, but got word that their daughter is safe.

>> my cousin, missy, text us that she had seen a video on tv of her! yay!

>> reporter: the tornado was on the ground for 40 minutes, leaving a path of destruction up to 17 miles long.

>> this is war zone terrible.

>> reporter: kfor helicopter pilot john welch , who captured some of the first images of the twister, took us up for a more complete picture.

>> i really don't have words to describe just the feeling, other than just utter shock and how bad this is going to be when they finally decide it's finished.

>> reporter: for many, the wreckage felt familiar. this young woman lost her home to the twister that hit back in 1999 , and this time, the same devastating loss.

>> my dad passed away and it had all of his stuff in there, and it's just gone. and that's not something you can replace.

>> reporter: oklahoma 's governor toured the disaster scene, promising to rebuild while president obama pledged federal support, adding that the nation's prayers are with the people of oklahoma .

>> our gratitude is with the teachers who gave their all to shield their children and with all of those who, as darkness fell, searched for survivors through the night.

>> reporter: but in a storm of this magnitude, not everyone could be saved. seven children at tower plaza elementary were killed.

>> as a father of two young elementary students, it hurts knowing that there were children lost.

>> more children might have been lost if not for the town's courageous teachers. all day, families combed through the wreckage, salvaging whatever they could carry. at the same time, signs of hope and resilience are springing up amid this ruined landscape.

>> this represents the hope that we can be better off.

>> yeah.

>> because, where else in the world could you walk away from this?

>> yeah.

>> get back up on your feet.

>> reporter: and this town is understandably grieving over the loss of 24 people here, but we have to focus on what went right. and matt, that would be the warning season. people had some time, and not 100 feet from where we're standing, there is one of those tornado shelters that a family and one of their neighbors went into. they heard it caming over, but they walked out live.

>> 16 minutes they had, and those were key 16 minutes.