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Students practice what to do if a tornado comes

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Eddy, 4, of Ms. Wilson's class, huddles in the hallway with other students during a tornado drill at Pactolus Elementary School Wednesday morning, March 8, 2017.


Beth Velliquette

Thursday, March 9, 2017

“We’re now in a tornado drill. Please assume your positions. Thank you.”

With that announcement by school secretary Portia Morning over the intercom at Pactolus Elementary School on Wednesday morning, the children in the preschool class scurried out of their classroom and into the hallway.

They were a noisy bunch, but they all got down on their knees with their heads pointed toward the wall and their hands covering their heads.

“Keep your head down,” a teacher called out. “Stay down.”

If they didn’t have it quite right, their teachers adjusted them so they’d be in the correct position, and with lots of shushing, they finally quieted down until they were all silent.

Elsewhere in the school, older students were doing the same thing, kneeling down and covering their heads, and at all the other schools in Pitt County and all around the state, students also were participating in tornado drills as part of Severe Weather Preparedness Week.

“It was a very calm and orderly drill,” said Allen Everette, Pitt County’s director of emergency management. Everette was there to observe the drill and bring awareness to being prepared for severe weather.

Ethan Lenker, the superintendent of Pitt County Schools, also attended the drill and said each school has a plan and that they practice several times a year.

Each school has a map, and schools that have mobile units have a plan on how to get children safely into the main school building and where they should go once inside.

“It’s like a fire drill,” he said. “You hope to never have to use it.”

The United States averages 1,200 tornadoes each year, but only about 20 of those are “killer tornadoes,” according to the Southeast Regional Climate Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. About 60 people a year die from tornadoes.

In North Carolina, there are about 16 tornadoes a year, although in 1966 there were 66 tornadoes, the center indicates on its website. In North Carolina, the average death toll from tornadoes is two per year, but about 39 people are injured each year from tornadoes. 

The deadliest tornado in North Carolina was on Feb. 19, 1884, when a tornado in Anson and Richmond counties killed 23 people, according to the center.

The purpose of Severe Weather Preparedness Week is to develop a plan and practice it now, Everette said. Don’t wait until a tornado is bearing down.

The schools prepare by practicing what to do, and Everette wants people at home or in businesses to be prepared as well.

Each of the children received a card the size of a standard business card with three safety tips. He hopes the children will take the cards home to get their parents thinking about what they could do to stay safe at home.

The card suggests that people watch weather reports each morning, assemble an emergency supply kit with 72 hours worth of food and water and share weather information with friends and neighbors and on social media.

Schools, which often are built out of cement blocks and often are used as shelters, are generally safe places to be during severe weather, but what should someone do if they live in a mobile home?

Everette said everyone should have a plan, and if a person living in a mobile home has time to prepare, it might be a good idea to go to safer place or even go lie in a ditch.

But if there’s no time, go to an inner closet or bathroom away from any windows. Grab an old football, skateboard or bicycle helmet if one is lying around and put it on. Pull a mattress over the top of yourself and your family for protection from flying debris.

“Hunker down where you are,” he said. 

By thinking about what to do and practicing before a tornado arrives, it may help spark some other ideas to stay safe and also help people stay calm and follow their plan when the moment arrives.

For more information about tornadoes and how to prepare go to: https://www.ready.gov/tornadoes.

Contact Beth Velliquette at bvelliquette@reflector.com or at 252-329-9566.