Moments of Hope in Oklahoma: One Photographer’s Story

Oklahoma Tornado
Sue Ogrocki—AP
May 20, 2013. A woman carries a child through a field near the collapsed Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma. A tornado as much as a mile wide with winds up to 200 mph roared through the Oklahoma City suburbs Monday, flattening entire neighborhoods, setting buildings on fire and landing a direct blow on an elementary school.

On Tuesday, the world awoke to the photographs of Sue Ogrocki. Based in Oklahoma City as a staff photographer for the Associated Press, Ogrocki’s images of rescue workers carrying injured children from the rubble of Plaza Towers Elementary School appeared on the cover of many of the world’s leading newspapers, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. Early this morning, TIME spoke with Ogrocki about what she witnessed on the ground in Moore – a scene of devastation and raw humanity.

“I could see on TV that the storms were headed towards Moore, and I knew I needed to get in the car and get down there, because if you don’t [hurry], you can’t get in. Cell phones go down, traffic lights go down, and it’s gridlock and you can’t communicate.”

Driving underneath pitch-black clouds and rain turning to baseball-sized hail, Ogrocki arrived in Moore, population 55,000, just after the F4 tornado leveled it.

Standing in a landscape that, minutes earlier, had resembled a suburban neighborhood, Ogrocki spotted a large mass of toppled cinder block. Too large to be a residential home, a bystander explained that she was looking at the remains of Plaza Towers Elementary School. Watching a crowd buzzing around a makeshift triage area set up in the parking lot, Ogrocki began to photograph.

“I could see people searching a section of the school that was close to me. And I could hear people saying that there are people trapped under the wall.”

Continuing around the backside of the school, Ogrocki found an incredible scene of humanity — police, firemen, parents, neighbors and rescuers were helping to dig children out of the rubble. Forming a human chain, a firefighter or police officer would pull a child out of the rubble and pass them to safety along the chain of bystanders.

“I couldn’t hear the children,” she explains, “and every now and then, police or fire would ask people to stay quiet so they could listen for the kids still trapped.”

“A lot of the parents were coming to the school to get their kids,” Ogrocki said. “It was bad out there, but for what they were doing, it was surprisingly calm — I was amazed.”

Ogrocki, who has photographed tornadoes in the past, including the one that devastated Moore in 1999, said she had never seen anything like this destruction. “This is probably the worst. I’ve never seen a school hit or people trapped before.”

“It was heartwarming because they kept pulling out kids that were alive. Kids that, although they looked a little stunned, didn’t really look like they were seriously injured. It was nice to see them come out in good shape.”

Each time a child was pulled from the rubble, covered in concrete dust and scared, the group of spectators and parents cheered.

“As I was walking out, there were still parents looking for their kids. I hope they found them.”


Sue Ogrocki is a staff photographer with the Associated Press based in Oklahoma City.


Related Topics: , , , , ,

Latest Posts

New York, New York. United States.October 17th 2014.#Dysturb New York.

Guerrillas in the Streets: The Dysturb Photo Collective Comes to NYC

Dysturb, a collective of photographers, takes to New York City's streets to bring photojournalism directly to the crowd

Read More
CARNIVORE’S DILEMMA PERMITTED USE: This image may be downloaded or is otherwise provided at no charge for one-time use for coverage or promotion of National Geographic magazine dated November 2014 and exclusively in conjunction thereof. No copying, distribution or archiving permitted. Sublicensing, sale or resale is prohibited. REQUIRED CREDIT AND CAPTION: All image uses must bear the copyright notice and be properly credited to the relevant photographer, as shown in this metadata, and must be accompanied by a caption, which makes reference to NGM. Any uses in which the image appears without proper copyright notice, photographer credit and a caption referencing NGM are subject to paid licensing. Mandatory usage requirements:1. Include mandatory photo credit with each image © Brian Finke/National Geographic2. Show the November cover of National Geographic somewhere in the post (credit: National Geographic) unless using only one image - you do not have to show the cover3. Provide a prominent link to: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/foodfeatures/meat/4. Mention that the images are from "the November issue of National Geographic magazine”Beef is big in Texas. Last year in the state, ten times as many calves were born, 3.85 million, as human babies.At the Big Texan in Amarillo—which offers free rides in a longhorn limo—you get your 72-ounce steak for free ifyou finish it in under an hour, along with the shrimp cocktail, the baked potato, the salad, and the roll.

Photojournalism Daily: Oct. 20, 2014

Courtesy Ginger Miller

#TIMEvets: Share Your Stories and Photos of Inspiring Veterans

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 17,510 other followers