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Weather Vault: Staff of Fair Grove High School recalls devastating derecho on May 8, 2009

(KY3)
Published: May. 8, 2018 at 4:31 PM CDT
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Tuesday marks nine years since a storm known as a derecho, carrying winds up to 90 miles-an-hour, hit the Ozarks.

It hit especially hard at Fair Grove High School. A section of the school crashed to the ground.

"So kids just messing around, hoping we got to stay in the hallway until second-hour so we didn't have to do homework," said teacher Jared Green.

Jared then was a student. He is now a teacher at Fair Grove Schools. That day quickly turned into one he'll never forget.

"It started at the end of the hallway, sounded like a train coming through, and you could see tile start ripping up," said Green. "You could see the roof raise; you could see stuff spinning outside, and then kind of just hung, and then all came crashing down."

"We were standing here taking shelter for a potential tornado, and the next thing we know, there's a wall on half of our student body," said Greg Porter, Fair Grove Schools Director of Safety and Security.

Amazingly, with cinder block and brick walls crumbling, the injuries were only minor.

"You drill for tornadoes and things of that nature that you expect to be over in 10, 20, 30 seconds, and in this situation, it lasted almost 15 minutes," said Supt. Mike Bell.

Bell, then an assistant principal, says they kept moving students, trying to get them to the safest areas as the powerful storm continued.

"Probably within a minute, that part of the building also collapsed and came down as well, so were were incredibly blessed, incredibly lucky on that day," said Supt. Bell.

Students sheltered in hallways and inner classrooms for a few more years, but no more. The district's FEMA shelter was completed in 2013.

The district also now has direct contact with the National Weather Service, emergency management officials, and watches its own radar.

"We have such a lead time that I don't feel like, ten years ago, that we had," said Porter. "So we've come a long way both technologically and here in itself as a school, in that FEMA safe room."

"It gives you peach of mind that if that situation were to occur again, we have things in place to help keep us safe," said Supt. Bell.

The 8,400 square foot FEMA shelter is designed not only to hold all the students and staff, but also the surrounding community.