By GWEN SISSON
MATHISTON — “It’s different, but it’s still school,” said Dalton Jackson, 10th grade East Webster High School student on his first day back in school following last Wednesday tornado.
The National Weather Service has determined the tornadoes that destroyed the East Webster school building and many homes in the Cumberland community, was considered a Category 4, with winds reaching 207-260 mph. While in the Sapa/Ticky Bend community of Webster County, the tornado was considered a Category 3, with winds reaching 158-206 mph.
East Webster High School was one of the buildings destroyed in Wednesday’s tornado. Golden Triangle Planning and Development offered the Wood College building to the Webster County School District as an alternate location to house students for classes as long as needed, according to Webster County Superintendent of Education, Jimmy Pittman.
The Webster County School Board expects East Webster High School students to be housed at Wood College for the remainder of this school term and both semesters of the 2011-12 school year.
In visiting with one 10th grade classroom, the students had a wide variety of stories and experiences from last week’s tornado.
“The most important thing is that we are all here together,” said 10th grade English teacher Paige Brantley. “No one was killed in the tornado and we are here together, surviving and making it great.”
Tenth grade student Jerniesha Ivy said driving by the high school building this morning on the bus was hard.
“It really hurt my feelings to see the school,” Ivy said. “That is where we won the state championship and our trophies are there. There are a lot of memories on that campus.”
Brianna Turman, 10th grade student, said seeing the devastation throughout the community is sad. Turman had the opportunity to go through the East Webster campus Wednesday following the tornado. She talked about the water and the glass on the floors.
“We know everyone here,” Turman said. “It is sad to see people’s houses and the school destroyed.”
Ivy and Turman both said the community has come together in amazing ways to show one another how much they care.
“The whole community has really shown how they care about other people,” Ivy said. “Churches and neighbors have gone to every house checking on people.”
Brett Flora said going to Wood College is a big change. Since the tornado, Flora and his dad have been working consistently to clear trees and help neighbors.
Brantley said many of the East Webster High School students have been hard at work over the past five or six days to assist in the clean up effort and help check on friends and family. She said many are physically exhausted.
Many of the students said they began working and checking on people almost immediately after the tornado moved through.
One student said they went outside to check on a neighbor who’s mobile home blew away. He said they barely recognized him because his face was so “messed up.”
There are no tornado sirens in the Cumberland community, so tornados and bad weather, particularly at night, are even more dangerous.
Many students said the severe weather had at least one person in their homes awake. One girl said she remembered her mom screaming for everyone to get into the bathroom. Another said they went into the hallway.
Ivy said she grabbed younger siblings and hid under cushions.
Charles Mosely said the whole experience was surreal.
“It was like a dream,” Mosely said.
The students agreed that the tornado sounded like a train. Mosely said he thought it was more like a jet engine. Other students agreed.
Amber Shaffer lost her home and car in Wednesday’s tornado. She said if it wasn’t for the new puppy the family recently adopted, they would not have made it through the storm alive.
“The puppy began howling just moments before the tornado hit and his howling woke everyone up,” Shaffer said.
When a natural disaster strikes, many times people of all ages truly learn what is most important in their lives, and East Webster High School students are no exception.
“Everyone takes so much for granted,” Shaffer said.
Flora said he learned not to plant trees around the house.