May 26th, 2011
03:32 AM ET

AC361: Tense moments behind the camera as warning sirens sounded

Joplin, Missouri (CNN) - The sirens started to wail just as we began to broadcast.

Lightning and thunder had begun an hour earlier, and the entire town of Joplin was under lockdown.

"That means one has touched down," Melisa Carriger, whose husband had narrowly survived the Joplin tornado, nervously told me. By “one,” Carriger meant another tornado.

We knew severe weather was expected again in Joplin during AC360°'s live hour of broadcasting Tuesday night, but the sirens still put everyone on edge.

We had scouted out the safest location for the show and built contingency plans in case another tornado hit, but it was hard to know what was happening.

We were already on-air; Anderson told one guest in Joplin who had joined us by phone to head down to her basement for shelter, while producer Susan Chun talked directly with our control room back in New York City to get the latest from CNN's Weather Center.

I turned to Chris Carriger, who was about to talk with Anderson about how he narrowly survived the tornado in his bathtub, clinging to the faucets as his roof ripped off and his body lifted into the air. A police detective and National Guard vet who served four combat tours in Iraq, Carriger wore his combat name tag, "Lawdawg," the one memento he found after the tornado. He used his police radio to find out whether a tornado had touched down.

It turned out we weren't in a tornado’s path, but extreme weather was moving in fast. As we neared the end of the broadcast, it began to rain with 75 mile per hour winds. We quickly wrapped the end of the show and threw all of the gear in our cars.

Related: Rotating storm avoids Joplin

Moments of Tuesday's broadcast were frightening, but none came remotely close to the horror experienced by Joplin's residents.

Since we arrived Monday, we have seen first hand the destruction, but none of us can ever know what it really feels like to have lived through the tornado and, worse, to cope with all that it has taken.

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