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Inside Okla. school wreckage, clues to tornado's littlest victims

TODAY’s Matt Lauer toured the wreckage Tuesday with authorities who described the heartbreaking initial moments first responders faced when they reported to the Plaza Towers Elementary School.

Lauer speaks with a police officer about how the tornado collapsed several floors of Plaza Towers Elementary School on top of each other. “We've got close to 50 feet of debris that still has to be gone through," the officer told Lauer.

A basketball covered by branches and splintered wood. A crumpled and torn-up map of the United States. And a paperback book, its cover curled by a tornado’s rain.

TODAY's Matt Lauer picks up a book left among debris from the tornado that hit Plaza Towers Elementary School. "It's ironic," he said of the book's title, "Discovering Pompeii," the ancient Italian city buried by a volcano. "Scenes of one of the most historic scenes of destruction and you come out to this."

The school took a direct hit from the tornado that ravaged Moore, Okla., and left few remnants of the classrooms that once inhabited it on Monday.

One of the few walls left standing after Monday's tornado leveled most of Plaza Towers Elementary School.
Firefighters go through the wreckage left by Monday's tornado, picking through debris and looking for survivors.
An aerial view of Plaza Towers Elementary School following Monday's tornado.

"They didn't know what was coming," said one officer, who's also a dad. "And you know they're terrified in the school. That's what you think about. That's what really bothers me, just looking at the devastation and thinking, 'what were the kids going through as this was happening?'"

The former cafeteria of the school was used as a temporary staging area immediately after the tornado passed through.