Archive for Sunday, March 4, 2007

Students retell tornado’s deadly assault on school

Eight were killed during storms

March 4, 2007

Advertisement

Enterprise High School was heavily damaged by a tornado Thursday in Enterprise, Ala. President Bush toured the tornado-damaged area Saturday. 20 people, including eight in the high school, were killed in Alabama, Georgia and Missouri in a huge storm system

Enterprise High School was heavily damaged by a tornado Thursday in Enterprise, Ala. President Bush toured the tornado-damaged area Saturday. 20 people, including eight in the high school, were killed in Alabama, Georgia and Missouri in a huge storm system

— In the science wing at Enterprise High School, students huddled in the protection of an interior hallway, joking around, thinking about how hungry they were and hoping they would get a half-day off.

"We'll get out of school early. We'll go home," Marisa Younanian, 17, remembers thinking. "It didn't quite turn out that way."

She was the first to see the tornado coming. She looked outside in time to see a flying tree strike a house and rip its roof off.

There was no funnel, just darkness and objects swirling as a howling noise grew in pitch. Her ears popped as the pressure changed in the hallway.

A textbook became her shield as she held it over her head. After no more than 30 seconds of chaos, she looked around but couldn't see the floor, because it was covered by pieces of wood, insulation, glass, bricks, tree limbs. Lights hung down by their wires from the ceiling. Water cascaded from a hole somewhere overhead.

A few minutes later, the students from the science wing emerged, in shock but alive.

Another part of the school, a building that people here refer to as "third hall," had become ground zero for a tornado that ripped through Enterprise.

Five boys and three girls were killed in third hall. They were among 20 people killed in Alabama, Georgia and Missouri by Thursday's tornadoes created by a huge storm system that buried parts of the upper Midwest under deep snow and pounded the Gulf Coast with thunderstorms.

Younanian was back at her high school Saturday for President Bush's visit to the damaged area.

"You can never heal a heart, but you can provide comfort knowing that the federal government will provide help for those whose houses were destroyed or automobiles were destroyed," the president told Enterprise Mayor Kenneth Boswell after a helicopter flight over the area.

Bush designated Coffee County, in Alabama's southeastern corner, as a disaster area, releasing millions of dollars in federal aid for recovery and individual assistance.

However, few were waiting for the government to step in. Even as the president was a few hundred yards away promising aid, neighbors with chain saws were cutting up fallen trees for friends. Church groups and other volunteer agencies had already swarmed into town to help clear debris and offer hope amid the devastation.

"Any help that you get is more than you had," Elaine Davis said as friends and relatives helped carry boxes out of her house, a hole punched in its roof by a steel beam from the nearby Enterprise High School.

After Bush left, hundreds of students from the school and some parents gathered in a city park away, milling around and checking up on one other.

Courtney Loose missed the president's tour because she was awaiting surgery at Medical Center Enterprise for deep lacerations on her head and one leg.

Loose was a survivor of third hall, where chunks of the concrete roof killed the eight other students around her.

Speaking from her hospital bed Friday, Loose tried to recall the deadly afternoon before.

Unlike Marisa Younanian and the others in the science wing, Loose and her friends never saw the storm coming. But when it struck the wind was so strong it pushed them down the hallway.

She said her teacher jumped on top of her and another student, shielding them with her body.

After a few minutes, all was still.

"There was blood all over me," Loose said. "I had a hole in my head."

She thinks she was hit by a brick.

She was trapped under two pieces of metal, which two boys moved to free her from the heap of debris. The gash on her leg - "You can see the bone," she said - ran from her ankle to the bottom of her knee.

"I thought I was going to die because there was so much blood. I just wanted to get out and call my parents," Loose said.

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.