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May 25, 2013

Sharing stories of survival

MOORE — As Monday’s EF-5 tornado moved closer to Plaza Towers Elementary School, teacher Justin Ayers knew they were in its path.

Ayers said all of the teachers at the site likely knew what was coming from television reports and they had been communicating by various means. Part of the information shared was their locations, so that when it was over the teachers and students could be found.

“As the storm moved closer, it was obvious we were going to be hit,” said Ayers, a 5th grade social studies teacher at the school.

Ayers said the students in his area on the east side of the building, fourth, fifth and sixth graders were in a

hallway per tornado protocol. Some were in the bathroom. He made his way around the building several times and watched the 1.3-mile-wide twister approach.

“It was big. It was a very big,” Ayers said. “I could see the neighborhood to our west — gone. Cars were beginning to move from the parking lot towards us.”

His first thought was the cars could become airborne projectiles and strike the building. He didn’t know what the impact would be. Due to that threat, he re-entered the building a few minutes before the tornado struck and went into a restroom, the most central location, where they huddled as close together as they could. It’s not procedure to take cover in a bathroom, but as soon as the order was made the children responded.

At that time, the skylights were being sucked out of the building, Ayers said. The roof was peeling back.

n n n

Over at Briarwood Elementary, Principal Shelley McMillin said a lot of prayers were being said.

“We prayed a lot to God,” she said.

McMillin said she could hear grinding noises, walls being torn apart. She looked up and the ceiling was gone. She could see debris spinning in the tornado.

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