Tornado caught on surveillance whirling through elementary school

Posted at 9:35 AM, Jun 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-01 09:35:45-04

Surveillance footage from Courtney Elementary School shows the frightening moments where an EF2 tornado barreled through parts of campus last Wednesday, leaving a trail of destruction and debris.

About 25 students and teachers were inside the building when the tornado ripped through, including fifth grader Jack Ploof.

"Never has there been anything as strong as a tornado come through," said Ploof.

Ploof says they all gathered together and ducked for cover as the storm passed.

"We are really lucky because it could've went another direction," said Ploof. "Anything could've happened."

The surveillance video outside one of the side doors plants and bushes being torn to pieces as 125 mile per hour winds rolled through, picking up one of the classroom door mats.

In the back parking lot, video shows the buses shaking back and forth in the powerful wind and the bus doors flying open and shut.

The storm blew trash all over the front entrance of the school including hundreds of aluminum cans from the school's recycling drive.

In just a matter of minutes - the landscape of the entire school was changed, but luckily nobody was hurt.

"That tornado was just crazy," said Cullen Summers, a second grader. "I honestly didn't think we would be this safe."

Within minutes after the tornado passed -- first responders set up a command center across the street from the school at the Courtney Volunteer Fire Department.

Crews spent hours going door-to-door, checking on neighbors, rescuing people trapped in their homes from fallen debris.

Fire Chief Barry Willard says his crews have spent the last week since the storm reviewing what they did right and what they did wrong.

"We always learn. We never stop learning, regardless of what we're doing. We always try to learn new techniques and different skills or whatever we need to help improve our job."

Willard says he thought crews did a good job with accountability - not only checking on neighbors but also checking on each other and the other emergency crews in the area.

But Willard says they could work on their radio communication practices and develop more strategic positioning locations in the event of another storm.

"We are never perfect. We always strive to better ourselves to help our community. Not only our community but the departments around us. We want to be there for them just as they were for us."

Surveillance video at Courtney Elementary School didn't show the worst of the damage on campus, the school gymnasium was completely gutted.

Thursday is the last day of school for students and teachers.

Courtney Elementary School Principal Dr. Jed Cockrell says there are no plans to make up the two days they missed last week after the storm.