As I have driven around in Calhoun and surrounding counties I have observed many new storm shelters that have been recently installed. Those new shelters are not comparable to the ones I had to go in while growing up. My father was afraid of storms and because we did not have a storm shelter we would go to a neighbor who had what we then called a "storm house." Those were usually made by digging a hole in a bank and covering it with heavy logs and a layer of tin.
Some had dirt mounted on top of that. The inside was damp or in most cases wet. Some had benches built around for people to sit on. I never sat on one of those benches. I just knew that under any of them could be a snake which I feared more than I did the storm. Another thing that bothered me was that my father waited until the storm was very near before he decided to seek a neighbor's shelter. We have ridden out a storm many times in a vehicle which I felt was much more dangerous that staying in the house. However, I did not have a vote. Finally we had our very own shelter. You guessed it! It was a hole dug in the bank next to the road covered with logs, tin and dirt. And yes, it was wet and a wonderful place for snakes to hide.
Springtime is the prime season for tornadoes here in the south. I always become concerned about students and teachers in schools this time of year. I am sure my concern is made worse because I lived through a tornado that hit two of our schools back in 1973. I was responsible for all three schools in Southaven at that time. My office was in the Southaven High School. On that day it was unusually warm and there had been a few thunderstorms and rain but no tornado watches issued by the National Weather Service.
The high school students were on lunch break, some in the cafeteria and some at the snack bar and a number in the halls going from place to place. I had made a visit to the second floor the check on the boy's rest room, their favorite place to light up a cigarette. I was shocked when I walked in and found no one in the rest room.
As I looked out the bathroom window facing the southwest I was more than shocked to see a tornado about to make a touch down on the football field. By the time I got to my office and shouted for the secretary to hit the emergency bell the tornado hit the southwest corner of the building and it sounded like an explosion in the building.
My assistants were sitting students down against the walls. I could see one of the elementary buildings from my office and as I looked I could see debris rising into the air. I knew the building had been hit hard and I expected injuries and death. As I rushed to the building and walked inside I found students still in the tornado drill mode, sitting against the walls, heads bent forward and their hands folded over their heads. There was one broken leg and no other injuries.
A resident had called the Principal's office and they had exactly 3 minutes to get into place. They were able to do it. Lives were saved because this Principal had prepared by having enough drills for everyone to know exactly what to do. I am grateful to this Principal. Two of our children were in the building when the tornado hit. As I walked down the hall our son who was in the fifth grade was sitting in position with his class. He looked up at me, dripping wet because the roof was gone and said, "Daddy, I lost my raincoat." Through tears I said, "Son, don't worry we will get another one."
Check with your children and see if they have been instructed in fire and tornado safety. Ask if they know where to go in case an emergency bell sounds. If they don't visit your Principal and discuss this matter with he/she. Take this matter up with your Superintendent and your school board. By doing this the life you save just might well be your own child. Emergency Management is also interesting in knowing if schools are not prepared. Make contact with them. This is a situation in which I urge you to be proactive.
Thanks for reading this column. I do appreciate each of you and the many comments I receive from you personally, through e-mails and correspondence. Keep letting me hear from you.
Billy McCord is a retired school administrator and an Elder in the United Methodist Church. He is Pastor of Shady Grove UM Church in Calhoun County and is President of the Calhoun County School Board and the Bruce Chamber of Commerce. Contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org