Today a tornado killed 15 people from my high school

I was driving home from work when I heard on the radio that a tornado had ripped through the high school of Enterprise, Alabama, where I attended, and where my little brother currently attends. A shock went through me as I heard the name of my home town. I'd never heard it on the national news before. When I heard that at least 8 kids at the high school had been killed, I really started worrying. I wanted to call my mom and find out if my little brother was okay. But I don't have a cell phone, and I was stuck in a traffic jam. I felt so trapped, and I was less than a mile from my house. When I finally got home, I couldn't reach my mother on at any of her numbers. I couldn't reach my sister, either. I called my sister-in-law, Michelle, who lives 30 minutes from Enterprise. She was home. Michelle said that my mother had driven to the high school twenty minutes before the tornado hit, and picked up my brother. He was safe. I was still in shock, though. I did the same thing I did after September 11; I watched the news for hours. I called and finally got through to my mom. She told me the police weren't letting anyone near the high school. Then I found out that seven more students died, bringing the total to fifteen. I got mad. It seems crazy to me that the police would keep away people that could help rescue the students. Maybe seven more would be alive if they had just let people go to the high school to help, or let the students with cars drive themselves home. My Mom told me about a family we're friends with. The tornado went right over their house. The mom and five kids all huddled in the hallway as the house shook and the roof was ripped off. They all survived. But the father was at work, and from where he was, he saw the tornado touch down. I can only imagine how helpless he felt as the tornado went towards his house. Enterprise is small, and I'm sure I know some of the families that lost sons and daughters today. I told my wife I'm leaving in the morning to go help clean up. I'm sure there's going to be a lot of work to do tomorrow. I've been so shook up by this all, I have to send my thoughts somewhere. You never think it will happen to you. You never think it.

sort by: active | newest | oldest
royalestel (author) 10 years ago
Well, I spent all day cleaning up until the curfew. I've found out a lot more about what happened. My brother, Jacob assists, in surgery, and the hospital is downt he street from the school, so he was one of the first responders to help dig people out. He seemed pretty shaken up by it, even though he's used to blood and guts. A 97 (and a half) year old lady who does her own yardwork had already cleaned up her yard except for the really big logs in the back yard. Cute lady named Polly who could remember when no roads were paved and everyone had a horse and buggy. A friend of the family was sitting between two girls in the hallway of the school. The wall leaned over and crushed the two girls on either side, but she's fine. I didn't see a scratch on her. There was only one house on Lake Oliver Drive that was demolished, and it was taken to the foundation. But the couple that lived in it survived. They were deposited a little way down the hill, perfectly fine. One of the high school kids that died was helping dig out some other kids when a wall fell on him. Another street I snuck onto to help clean up, the path of the tornado missed numerous houses to crush a mini-storage lot and a convenience store, then went to the only empty wooded lot on the street. I want to see aerial pictures of the whirlwind's path. It's very hard getting around the city to help clean up. There are gas leaks and power trucks everywhere. One of the school teachers watched her daughter die right in front of her. The power company has been amazingly coordinated. I've never seen so many poles go up this fast. I spent the day tearing down a demolished shed, helping a lady load some belongings onto a uhaul truck (I gave her a hug; she was in the house when the roof was ripped off. She seemed sad.), and cutting up fallen tress on roofs or in yards. I just drove around with a bunch of my brothers and other teens looking for work. We went to a memorial service in a public park fro the high schoolers. I saw a kid with a head bandage. A teacher we know from church was crushed by a cinder block wall. She escaped with a concussion, and a dislocated shoulder. My brothers from Dothan came in, with about 40 men attacked my sister's neighborhood, helping a lot of people. Someone was giving cars away to people that lived in the poorest neighborhood hit (my sister's). A family friend signed up for one. We'll see when or how they'll get it. I went to find some food for my teenage crew around lunchtime. There was free food to be had fro volunteer workers, but no one would believe I wasn't just trying to mooch off of them. I went to KFC. My sister was worried I might be moving things at her house before the insurance adjuster came (apparently they tell you not to touch anything). I told her one unrecognizeable pile of brick looks like another unrecognizeable pile of brick (she's in Augusta at the moment). When I emailed her pictures, she finally understood. She labeled them randomly as kitchen, bath, front bedroom. You couldn't tell the difference. I hope y'all don't mind me posting this semi-blog. It's a bit cathartic to me. Today I was so grateful that I had the chance to help out here I almost cried. I am glad I came right out, without waiting to be asked by anyone. It's so easy to help out. You just walk around and ask what you can do for someone. I love serving people like this. They'll never know who I am or where I came from. I think when I get back home I'll write an instructable on how to help clean up a natural disaster. What to bring and all that. A friend of my little brother was being unruly and sent away from the rest of his group at school. So he wasn't caught in the rubble when the ceiling fell down. He helped dig people out. He saw some die. He doesn't have any religious beliefs at all and he seems completely lost. Utterly lost. Everyone at the memorial service was hugging one another. It was good to see. I love you guys. Have a great day. Royal
Royal, hi, I somehow just came across your posts while trying to find some information on the best/safest way to load a Uhaul. I guess the comment where you discussed helping to clean up and loading a Uhaul was somehow caught by Google, but either way, I'm glad I came across it. I'm actually from Enterprise, and can remember feeling exactly how you described feeling when you first heard of the tornado destroying our high school. I currently live in Atlanta, and must have had a training or something that day, because I remember first hearing about it on the radio while I was driving home from work, and it happened much earlier than I normally got off work at that time. I couldn't believe what I was seeing when I got to my apartment and turned the t.v. on, only to see my high school all over Fox News, CNN, and the rest of the national news outlets. My father has spent the majority of the last decade working most of the year in South Florida, close to West Palm Beach (Jupiter, FL, to be exact), but had just taken an instructor position closer to home and was now driving back and forth to Ft. Rucker every day. My sister is three years younger than I am and was driving back and forth from Enterprise to Troy every day where she was doing her internship at the high school there. She was in her last semester at Troy State but, like myself, graduated from Enterprise High School before attending Troy State. My mom is a school teacher at Hillcrest Elementary School, which happens to sit right next to Enterprise High School. I put a different news station on every t.v. in the apartment, and scoured the internet, but I couldn't get any information about her school. I remember trying to call my mom, my dad, and my sister, and not being able to get through to any of them. I just kept getting an "All Circuits are Busy" message every time I called any of them. I was scared about my sister and dad because of the drive they both made every day, and the mostly 2 lane, curvy highway roads they both had to take to get to Troy, Ft. Rucker, and Ozark, from Enterprise every day. What if they had left work early that day because of the weather and were on the road when it hit? What if they were at home for some reason that day? The absolute worst thoughts kept popping in my head about them. But I remember being absolutely PETRIFIED about the safety of my mom. I kept hearing about the deaths of both students and teachers in the high school that day, and the images of the school, the football field, and the parking lots on both sides of the high school were terrible. On one side of the high school was the football field, with a parking lot in between the two. The other parking lot was on the other side of the school, in between it and the elementary school my mom worked at. The cars they kept showing in both parking lots looked absolutely chaotic. They were all flipped (either upside down or sideways) and most of them were crashed into each other. There were also reports coming out that the band room was one of the areas that was completely collapsed. The band room was on the side of the school closest to my mom's school, along with one of the parking lots, so I knew there had to be damage to her school as well. Talk about one hell of a scary afternoon. Anyway, somehow I ended up getting through to my mom first. Luckily enough, I had just switched my cell phone plan to a family plan (got an insane discount through my employer) so both my parents were on my cell phone plan and had Sprint cell phone service. Sprint is not available in the Enterprise area so very few people have that particular cellphone service. My mom heard many of her co-workers complaining that their cellphones weren't working and had tried to call both my dad and sister (since she sees them on a daily basis, and wanted to check on them as well since they were both working in the same area) earlier and wasn't able to get through either so she had given up on her phone but, somehow out of frustration, she stumbled on her recent call log and saw that I had called so she tried calling me back. I couldn't believe it then, and still can't quite describe the relief I felt when my phone rang and I saw my mom's name and number pop up on caller id. She was very hysterical and in a complete stage of panic when I talked to her, but she was ok, which was all that mattered to me at that time. Throughout the day I found out that both my sister and father were both alright as well. Somehow both my parents were able to call me, but neither of them could call each other so I was kind of letting them both know first that they were both ok, then where the other one was. When I finally got through to my dad though he was in the process of walking a couple of miles to the school my mom worked out to make sure she was ok. He had heard about the damage to the high school and couldn't get through to her, so he decided to drive up there. However, and this goes along with what you were saying earlier about people not being allowed in the area to help survivors, they had the area the two schools were in blocked off in radius of a few miles so he had to park and walk in order to get there. He described the entire area around both schools as a "War Zone." The buildings were in ruins, there were helicopter and emergency vehicles everywhere, and small groups of people all over the place. It was unbelievable.
Wow, that's some really heavy stuff :( I know I said it already... but if anything starts bothering you or sticks with you -- be sure to get help sooner rather than later. I kinda feel pretty bad (you know that sinking chest feeling) after reading that. I have one question.... kinda related to canida's tornado drill comment. If the walls are going to collapse (and presumable crush people) - why the hell do they teach us to crouch at the base of solid walls? At least that is what I was taught when I went to school in South Florida :/
royalestel (author)  trebuchet0310 years ago
I'm sorry to bring you down. I was trying to mix in the good things I saw with the sad to offset it. I'm not shaken up a bit. Really. I see some puzzle pieces and put them together. To me there is miraculous control in the tornado's path. So many more people could have died had the tornado taken a different path across Enterprise. But it tore up one house, hit a convenience store, went to a wooded lot, tore up another two houses, hit an empty church, crushed the school, hit two more houses, hit a cemetery, and old empty pet washing place, a wooded area, and demolished a neighborhood before it left. Actually, it did all that in reverse order. It really dodged a lot of houses when it went through. That's a good thing, man. I guess the other reason I'm not too shaken up by it is there's work to do. I grew up with three other teenage brothers, and whenever there'd be a flooding or a hurricane or something, my dad would pack us in the van and we'd go help clean up. I'm not going to wait anymore for someone to ask for help. Next time I hear of a storm or disaster I'm going again. I know what to do and how to stay safe while doing it. Helping people really is as easy as busting up a house or cutting wood. That's all I did.
>> If the walls are going to collapse (and presumable crush people) - why the hell do they teach us to crouch at the base of solid walls?

Because the solid walls are LESS likely to collapse than the weaker parts of the building that are still quite capable of killing you. Sure, once in a while you'll get a direct hit from a storm so powerful that the walls collapse, but that doesn't happen as often windows shattering into sharp shards of glass, etc. It's like wearing seatbelts in a car; you can find stories of accidents where NOT having a seatbelt on would have been better, but that's not the way to play your cards...

Not that statistics are very useful for making anyone feel better when disaster does strike. "Statistically your friends should still be alive." Right. Thanks.
royalestel (author) 10 years ago
Thanks for your replies, guys. I really appreciate it. I took a neighbor kid with me and we got to Enterprise by mid-afternonn. Grabbed some tarps from my Mom's backyard and we drove around making notes on the damage. We tacked the tarps on a couple roofs that didn't have too much damage. We usually get hurricane damage, not tornadoes, so I didn't realize there would be whole sections of Enterprise with absolutely no damage and whole sections with absolute rubble. What's miraculous is that only one person in all of the hit neighborhoods died. On my sister's street, her house and her neighbors were demolished. The Tornado obviously went directly over them. But they were also unoccupied at the time. Renters were going to move in today. So those were the two houses on the street that were the perfect ones to be directly hit by the tornado. As far as we know, the only lady that died was an 83yr-old that was standing in front of a large window just watching the tornado come. I'm leaving in a couple minutes to get to work today. Thanks again everybody. You're dang right, canida. Those drills just don't matter. Maybe a place built with quake nails would fare better? Mabye? Anyways. Y'all have a good one.
canida10 years ago
Man, that's tough. I'm originally from a tornado-prone area, and remember thinking exactly how useless those tornado drills seemed. If they touch down squarely on your building preparation is little help. Glad you can help with the clean-up- there's bound to be a lot of it. They'll appreciate it, and it always feels good to be able to do something useful.
Kiteman10 years ago
Hang in there. We've all got near-distaster stories (it was chance that I missed being on the same train as the London Tube bombings), so feel free to share the burden.
If the building collapsed, I'm sure that even though people would like to help it's best not to have inexperienced people running around in the rubble. I hear you on the tragedy and the shock, though. I lost a relative to a gun-wielding maniac on a shooting spree several years ago. Took me days to come to terms with the fact that that kind of shit actually happens.
trebuchet0310 years ago
If it eats at you... make sure to talk to a doctor ;) No need to psycho trouble years from now ;)


I kinda know how you feel.... On 9/11, my Mother and Sister were scheduled to fly back home from a trip in MA. Leaving From Boston... In the Morning... American Airlines. Yeah, that day sucked as the phone grid over there basically collapsed from the sudden and then persistent load :/

Good Luck with the Clean up tomorrow.