Saturday, July 12, 2014

Okla. students back to class after deadly twister

An EF5 storm plowed through elementary schools in May, killing 24 in community

August 17. 2013 12:32AM
KRISTI EATON Associated Press

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MOORE, Okla. — Students from two elementary schools destroyed by a tornado last spring returned to classes Friday, eager to reunite with their classmates but worried about what would happen the next time bad weather sweeps in.

“He’s a little anxious. He didn’t want to eat,” Julie Lewis said Friday, wiping tears from her cheeks after escorting her son Zack to school on his first day of fourth grade.

An EF5 storm with winds greater than 200 mph plowed through Briarwood and Plaza Towers elementary schools May 20 as classes were wrapping up for the school year. Seven of Zack’s schoolmates died at the Plaza Towers school when a wall collapsed on them.

Zack’s father had plucked the boy from his classroom as the weather grew threatening, so the child wasn’t on campus when the storm hit. But before leaving for school Friday, Julie Lewis said her son wanted to make sure someone would pick him up again if another tornado bore down on the Oklahoma City suburb.

Five therapy dogs greeted the children outside the Central Junior High School, which will share its campus with Plaza Towers students for at least the next year. Parents snapped photographs of their children in front of flowers, balloons and a red-and-white banner reading “Plaza Towers Elementary School. Welcome.”

Cameron Richardson, also entering the fourth grade, had trouble sleeping Thursday night as a storm rolled through central Oklahoma. He didn’t speak much while preparing for school but looked sharp in his black jeans shorts and new basketball shoes.

“I am nervous for him. I just hope it doesn’t storm the next few days,” his mother Alicia Richardson said.

Cameron was one of several children whose rescue was captured by an Associated Press photographer following the storm — and he keeps an image of his rescue on his cellphone to share with others.

School officials were hopeful that Friday’s return to school would help students put the memory of the deadly tornado behind them. Many in town had already returned to a familiar routine, but not the children.

The tornado killed 24 people, including the seven at Plaza Towers, as it tore a 17-mile path through Moore and other Oklahoma City suburbs. Scores of homes and businesses were destroyed — along with the two elementary schools.

“I’m a little nervous about the beginning of school because I want the kids so badly to feel good and comfortable at school,” said Plaza Towers Principal Amy Simpson, who took cover from the storm in a 4-by-5-foot bathroom with her office staff and emerged to find a mangled car on a co-worker’s desk.

The district will build new schools at the sites of the old ones; the new ones will have tornado-safe rooms.

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