Shelter from the storm

By Brandon Evans | Published Wednesday, May 29, 2013

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Every tile I walked upon is gone. All have been scraped, removed, crushed and dumped in a nameless landfill.

The echoes of a million footsteps racing to class are no longer captured in the little craters of cinder block walls. They’ve crumbled into dust.

The outside lunch table my friend Jeremy Petrie tried to back-flip off of, on a bet, and wound up breaking his ankle is gone.

The driver’s ed classroom with the old simulators where a red-faced coach repeated “always avoid the head-on collision” a hundred times doesn’t exist anymore.

The gym was demolished. Even the gridiron and the Wildcat Stadium surrounding it were damaged beyond repair.

As time passes, every memory of my old high school fades into the nothingness the tornado created.

The only thing that remains, the only sounds that resonate with force, are the cries of the eight students killed.

Brandon Evans

Brandon Evans

When I graduated from Enterprise High in 1995 I was ready to go. I knew the wide world held a lot more ideas and places to explore. I didn’t want to be trapped in my hometown in L.A. (Lower Alabama) for the rest of my life. I’ve since had the chance to live and study and work all over the country. And I never once looked back – until that deadly day on March 1, 2007, when a half-mile wide EF4 twister struck my alma mater.

I couldn’t help but revisit the hometown tragedy in my mind when a massive tornado hit two elementary schools in Oklahoma May 21, killing 7 children at one campus. Overwhelmed by helplessness when viewing images of the disaster, there’s not much one can do besides make a donation to Red Cross or say a prayer of thanks to the first responders.

But then last week I got a chance to talk to storm chaser and Bridgeport High School teacher Jason McLaughlin. His campaign to require all newly-built public schools to install some type of storm shelter or shelters is a way to save some students’ lives in the future.

It started when McLaughlin posted the idea on his Facebook page, North Texas Weather, the same day that EF5 tornado ripped through Moore, Okla. Within a couple days McLaughlin had more than 15,000 “likes” and thousands of comments from people supporting the measure.

There are some laws being proposed that would require all homeowners to install shelters. I don’t agree with those proposals because people shouldn’t be forced to install one at their home if they don’t want it. It’s private property. It’s their choice. It’s the risk a private individual should be able to make on their own.

But public schools are held in common. They are owned by the community they serve. The school is a place where parents send their children not only to the learn and grow, but also to be safe and protected. Alabama passed a law in favor of this after the 2007 tornado. Oklahoma might, after this month’s nightmare at Moore.

Will Texas? Maybe like these states it will wait until an EF4 or EF5 demolishes a crowded school with little warning. I guess it’s human nature to wait until after the fact to react.

Kevin Simmons, an economist at Austin College in Sherman, specializes in the economics of natural disasters. His research of late has focused on the carnage of tornadoes. He’s not sure if school districts could afford building safe rooms that could survive EF5 tornadoes, but they might feasibly invest in simpler shelters.

“Me and my wife just spent $4,000 on a safe room in our house,” Simmons said. “If we took a direct hit from a storm like they had in Moore it probably couldn’t survive it.”

But about 98 percent of all tornadoes are EF2 or smaller.

“It’s difficult to afford a shelter that is 100 percent effective,” Simmons said. “But on the other end of the spectrum you have to do something. It all comes down to how much risk you are willing to take.”

And right now, 49 states, including all those in Tornado Alley and all but one in Dixie Alley, are willing to risk it all.

Enterprise High School has been rebuilt, better than it ever was before. The schools in Moore will come back, too. But there’s no way to bring back the children who perished

We can, however, honor their memory by doing all we can to keep it from happening to others.

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