MOORE, Okla. - Three hours.
Maria Sanchez’s 6-year-old daughter Kaylie was in her kindergarten class Monday afternoon at Plaza Towers Elementary School when a massive EF-5 tornado hit.
Sanchez, miles away, instinctively drove to her daughter’s school, turning down the radio on her way to tune out the early reports the school was gone.
“Is she alive? Is she OK? Is she with somebody? Is she by herself?” Sanchez recalled thinking as she sped to the school.
Sanchez said she encountered too much damage as she approached the school and ran the rest of the way to see if she could find Kaylie.
She arrived to a chaotic scene at the school, but no sign of Kaylie.
“We started running into the hallway so we could cover our heads, and the teachers were praying for us to be okay,” Kaylie Sanchez remembers of the tornado. “It was scary.”
Oklahoma’s chief medical examiner Wednesday released a list of the 24 people who lost their lives in Monday’s tornado.
Ten of the 24 victims were kids at Plaza Towers Elementary School. Some of those kids were just feet away from Hannah Archer, a second grader at the school.
“We were on pins and needles waiting,” Hannah’s grandfather Steve Archer said of waiting to find out which list Hannah was on.
Kaylie's family felt the same way.
“I wanted to see her, that’s all I wanted to do,” Maria Sanchez recalled of her desperate search for daughter. “I wanted to hug her.”
For three hours, Sanchez came up empty.
In a town now covered by storm debris -- wreckage that once was a part of homes, businesses, schools and lives -- two stories of hope persevered.
Steve Archer recalls his wife screaming at him and initially feared the worst.
“All of a sudden I realize she’s screaming for joy,” Archer said. Hannah had been found safe.
And three hours after she first arrived at the school, Maria Sanchez found Kaylie.
“She’s going to be okay,” Maria Sanchez said.
For Kaylie and Hannah, their stories of survival pierce through air that’s stagnant with loss.
“When it finally hit her, she’s wondering ‘Why did this happen? Who made the tornado,’” Archer said of his granddaughter, Hannah.
For Sanchez, the pain of other parents still lingers with the joy of finding her own daughter.
“My heart pours out to them and my prayers are with them,” Sanchez said of the parents whose kids who died in the storm. “But we are together and we will rise again.”
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