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Preparing for the worst at Creekside

By Holly Hollman
hhollman@decaturdaily.com · 340-2445

CAPSHAW — Wednesday was a calm, sunny day.

A glaring contrast to nearly a week before when an F3 tornado ripped off the roof of an Alabama high school and ripped the heart out of a community.

Wednesday, about 950 students at Creekside Elementary School crouched in the hallways, many with science and reading books perched on their heads. They weren’t in harm’s way, however, because this was a drill.

Six days earlier, about 270 miles to the south at Enterprise High School, students experienced the real thing. Eight of them died, crushed under crumbling walls.

“It could have been us,” Limestone Superintendent Barry Carroll said. “What happened in Enterprise could have been us. If the speed had increased, or the storm had turned, it could have hit us while buses were on the road.”

But a storm didn’t hit here. Limestone let schools out at 11 a.m., and students were safely home by 12:30 p.m., Creekside Principal Matt Scott said.

Nearly a week later, Scott put his school through its monthly tornado drill.

A staff member pressed a
button in an office closet labeled “tornado warning” at 8 a.m. The alarm wailed through the school as students filed out of rooms and slunk onto the floor of the innermost hallways, away from windows.

The seven-year-old school has wings that jut from the main hallway. Students went into that main area or as close to the main hallway as possible. One section to the back of the school has reinforced concrete on the top and sides.

“If we were really in a tornado, we would get as many kids as possible into that section,” Scott said. “We couldn’t fit them all. We just have too many.”

Scott roamed the hallways with a radio, talking to teachers and timing the exercise.

In one minute and 15 seconds, 950 kindergarten through fifth-grade students were in place.

Scott nodded his satisfaction and notified the staff that students could return to class.

Being prepared is one way the school can survive a fickle Mother Nature.

“When we know there are going to be storms, I start my day early, watching the news and staying in touch with emergency officials,” Scott said. “Spotters in other counties tell our EMA director, Spencer Black, what’s coming our way. If we have time to close school and get the kids home safe, our administration does that. If we can’t, then we take all precautions at the schools.”

Carroll said the death toll at Enterprise High could “change the way we think that students are safer at school than anywhere else.”

“It’s hard to know what to do,” Carroll said.

So during the March 1 storms, Carroll opted for caution.

After staff members talked to the Athens-Limestone Emergency Management Agency, Sheriff’s Department and officials in areas west of Limestone County, Carroll chose to close schools. Limestone closed early so the bus routes would be over before the estimated arrival time of the storm.

Then, the storm didn’t hit.

“But it could have,” Carroll said.

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