Inside Enterprise High School When the Storm Hit

ByABC News via GMA logo
February 6, 2009, 8:27 PM

March 2, 2007 — -- Enterprise, Ala., is still reeling this morning, after Thursday's brutal storm -- a half-a-mile wide -- hit Enterprise High School as though there was a bull's eye painted on its roof.

Sirens first rang out at the high school at 11 a.m. -- a sign that the gathering storm was turning into something more deadly, but the twister wasn't expected to hit until later in the afternoon.

Students had lined the hallways in anticipation of an early dismissal when all 1,100 of them were blindsided.

"And it just hit at such a quick pace that they were not able to respond to it," said Corp. Tracy Nelson, a spokesman for the Alabama State Troopers.

"The lights flickered off, and they told all of us to just get down and the next thing I know. Debris is flying everywhere," said student Kayla Todd. "It was so scary."

The tornado lasted just 30 seconds, but it felt like an eon to students and teachers crouched in the hallway, praying for their lives.

"I was right by a skylight, so I was able to look up," said student Brooke Shroades. "Me and another girl said, 'There it goes.' And you could see the tornado go right over the top. Only 30 seconds, but that was long enough."

For some, their only shelter was a cubby hole in the choir room. Teachers pressed students against floors and walls to keep them safe.

"Most of the ceiling fell in, the ceiling and the windows were flying. A lot of people were cut," said substitute teacher Larry Walker.

The roof of the gymnasium caved in, the school's stadium was destroyed, and students were pinned beneath the wreckage.

"It appears to me that the majority of the school is destroyed," said David Coggins, the regional coordinator for Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Students left the building screaming, wondering how many lives the tornado had taken as it ripped through their school's walls.

"I just looked like pandemonium," said Greg Oliver, the parent of a student. "Children were everywhere, crying and hurt and panicking. And I was panicking, too, trying to find my son."