In Enterprise six years ago, the day began as do many spring days in southeast Alabama – a chance of thunderstorms with some possibly severe. As a high school principal, weather watching had become second nature. Even though I had never experienced an actual tornado, I had been under watches and warnings more times than I dare to guess.
By midmorning, it was apparent that this particular day was going to turn ugly. The reports that we received from the National Weather Service in Tallahassee, Fla., pointed to the worst of the stormy weather getting to our area between 3:00 and 5:00 p.m. The decision was made at approximately 9:30 a.m. to release students from school early at 1:00 p.m., which would give students plenty of time to get home before the worst of the weather arrived. Plans were set into motion to notify parents, bus drivers, and everyone who would play a role in this process.
At approximately 11:00 a.m., we went under a tornado warning – not a watch, but a warning. This means that a tornado has been sighted in your area. Teachers reacted as they had been trained and had practiced numerous times. The school’s crisis team was mobilized, and students were moved from classrooms to the predetermined safe areas of our school. Most warnings last approximately 30 minutes, but on this particular day, we never came out of the warning mode.
By noon, it was becoming apparent that we would probably not be able to release our students as planned. At 1:12 p.m., the EF4 tornado struck Enterprise High School.
We lost the lives of eight wonderful students that day. And I would be less than honest if I did not say that I, personally, beat myself up for several days asking what we could have done differently to avoid the tragedy and prevent their deaths.