School survivors recall terrifying moments tornado hit - WNCN: News, Weather

School survivors recall terrifying moments tornado hit

Posted: Updated:
MOORE, Okla. -

The principal's voice came on over the intercom at Plaza Towers Elementary School: A severe storm was approaching and students were to go to the cafeteria and wait for their parents to pick them up.
    
But before all of the youngsters could get there, the tornado alarm sounded.
    
The plan changed quickly.
    
"All the teachers started screaming into the room and saying, 'Get into the hallway! We don't want you to die!' and stuff like that," said sixth-grader Phaedra Dunn. "We just took off running."
    
In the moments that followed, some of the children at Plaza Towers Elementary would, in fact, die. At least seven were killed by the twister Monday afternoon. Others would crawl out of the rubble, bloodied and bruised, utterly terrified.
    
The tornado that devastated this Oklahoma City suburb of 56,000 people destroyed Plaza Towers and also slammed Briarwood Elementary, where all the children appear to have survived. Students and parents recounted stories Tuesday of brave teachers who sheltered their pupils, in some cases by herding them into a closet and a restroom amid the panic.
    
After the tornado alarm went off, students at Plaza Towers scrambled into the halls. But the halls - some of which were within the view of windows - did not appear safe enough.
    
Sixth-grader Antonio Clark said a teacher took him and as many other youngsters as possible and shoved them into the three-stall boys' bathroom.
    
"We were all piled in on each other," the 12-year-old said. Another teacher wrapped her arms around two students and held Antonio's hand.
    
Twenty seconds later he heard a roar that sounded like a stampede of elephants. His ears popped.
    
Then it all stopped almost as suddenly as it started. Crouched down, his backpack over his head, Antonio looked up. The skylight and the ceiling were gone, and he was staring up into a cloud filled with debris.
    
Antonio and a friend were among the first to stand up. They climbed over debris where their classroom had been just moments earlier. Students and teachers were struggling to free themselves from under the bricks, wooden beams and insulation. Some people had bleeding head wounds; blood covered one side of someone's eyeglasses, Antonio said.
    
"Everybody was crying," Antonio said. "I was crying because I didn't know if my family was OK."
    
Then Antonio saw his father ride up on a mountain bike, yelling his son's name.
    
Phaedra survived, too. Her mother rushed to the school just moments before the tornado hit, covered Phaedra's head with a blanket to protect her from hail and ushered her out the door. Phaedra's 10-year-old sister, Jenna, didn't want to budge from the school.
    
The principal "grabbed her backpack, put it over her head and literally said, 'You're mom's going to open the door. Get out. You're safer with your mom,' and pushed her out the door," said Amy Sharp, the girls' mother.
    
At Briarwood Elementary, the students also went into the halls. But a third-grade teacher didn't think it looked safe, so she herded some of the children into a closet, said David Wheeler, one of the fathers who tried to rush to the school after the tornado hit.
    
The teacher shielded Wheeler's 8-year-old son, Gabriel, with her arms and held him down as the tornado collapsed the school roof and starting lifting students upward with a pull so strong that it literally sucked glasses off kids' faces, Wheeler said.
    
"She saved their lives by putting them in a closet and holding their heads down," Wheeler said.
    
Gabriel and the teacher - whom Wheeler identified as Julie Simon - had to dig their way out of the rubble. The boy's back was cut and bruised and gravel was embedded in his head, Wheeler said. It took nearly three hours for father and son to be reunited.
    
Other parents waited even longer, as they drove from one emergency shelter to another in search of their children.
    
At St. Andrews United Methodist Church, 15-year-old Caitlin Ulrey waited about seven hours before her parents found her. Her high school had not been hit by the tornado. But her nerves were frayed.
    
"I was starting to panic and shake and have an anxiety attack," Caitlin said.
    
At Plaza Towers, several students were pulled alive from under a collapsed wall and other heaps of mangled debris. Rescue workers passed the survivors down a human chain of parents and neighborhood volunteers. Parents carried dazed and terrified children in their arms to a triage center in the parking lot.
    
Hundreds of Oklahoma schools have reinforced tornado shelters, but not the two that were hit on Monday.
    
Albert Ashwood, director of the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, said it is up to each jurisdiction to set priorities for which schools get funding for safe rooms. But he said a shelter would not necessarily have saved more lives at Plaza Towers. The tornado was an EF5 twister, the most powerful type, with winds of at least 200 mph.
    
"When you talk about any kind of safety measures ... it's a mitigating measure, it's not an absolute," Ashwood said. "There's not a guarantee that everyone will be totally safe."
    
Moore School Superintendent Susan Pierce said teachers and administrators put their well-rehearsed crisis plan into action as the tornado approached. But she suggested there are limits to what people can do in the face of such a powerful storm.
    
"Safety is our main priority," Pierce said. "We monitored the weather throughout the day and when it was time to shelter, we did just that."

  • Trending StoriesTrending StoriesMore>>

  • 77-year-old questioned, defended as true Marine after NFL player takes his photo

    77-year-old questioned, defended as true Marine after NFL player takes his photo

    Tuesday, July 22 2014 1:58 PM EDT2014-07-22 17:58:35 GMT
    (WMC) - It was a story that made its rounds on social media. On a recent flight DeAngelo Williams, Mid-Southerner and running back for the Carolina Panthers, gave his first-class plane seat to a 77-year-old
    Family members are upset and hurt that their relative, James Wesley Bolden, is being called a liar and "a fake."
  • Largest companies by revenue in each state

    Largest companies by revenue in each state

    Thursday, July 10 2014 8:01 PM EDT2014-07-11 00:01:10 GMT
    Broadview Networks recently decided to find out the biggest -- by revenue -- company in each state in the US.The company used the Fortune 500 list to start with, but needed data by state, so it turned to Hoover's.With data from that company, they were able to search through each state's list of companies and then find the largest -- by revenue.Just flip through the list above and see who is the biggest in each state, what town they are based and their revenue.
    Broadview Networks recently decided to find out the biggest -- by revenue -- company in each state in the US.The company used the Fortune 500 list to start with, but needed data by state, so it turned to Hoover's.With data from that company, they were able to search through each state's list of companies and then find the largest -- by revenue.Just flip through the list above and see who is the biggest in each state, what town they are based and their revenue.
  • Air Algerie jet with 116 on board crashes in Mali

    Air Algerie jet with 116 on board crashes in Mali

    Friday, July 25 2014 2:56 AM EDT2014-07-25 06:56:56 GMT
    The official Algerian news agency says an Air Algerie flight from Burkina Faso to Algiers has disappeared from the radar.
    An Air Algerie jetliner carrying 116 people crashed Thursday in a rainstorm over restive Mali, the third major international aviation disaster in a week.
Powered by WorldNow

1205 Front St., Raleigh
N.C., 27609

Telephone: 919.836.1717
Fax: 919.836.1687
Email: newstips@wncn.com

Can't find something?
Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC. A Media General Company.