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Statewide drills part of Severe Weather Awareness Week
Centennial Arts Academy fourth-grade teacher Heather Weiser, right, monitors the hallway as her students go back into the classroom after Wednesday morning’s tornado drill. The drill was held as part of Severe Weather Awareness Week in schools across the state. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Sometime between algebra and geography classes, school children across the state took to the tiled bathrooms and windowless hallways of their schools Wednesday to practice the duck and cover severe weather drill.

The drill was part of the state’s Severe Weather Awareness Week, which calls for all Georgia residents to determine what action they would take if severe weather ranging from tornados and hurricanes to heat waves and ice storms hit home, school or work.

Susan Gilliam, principal of Centennial Arts Academy, said Wednesday’s drill marked the third so far this school year at the Gainesville elementary school. She said students at Centennial Arts Academy typically practice the drill four times every school year to keep the routine fresh in students’ memories.

“When you have severe weather, you really have to be automatic as far as your response,” Gilliam said. “... That’s why we practice, so it is routine and children know what to do, because in a tornado, you might just have seconds.”

On Aug. 26 last year, three EF1 tornados hit Hall County within four hours, causing $3.36 million in damage.

No one was injured in the twisters, but one did hit Oakwood and Lyman Hall elementary schools.

The 65 students participating in an afterschool YMCA program at Lyman Hall Elementary had just a few moments to respond before the tornado hit the school gym.

The National Weather Service had not issued a preliminary tornado watch on Aug. 26 for the schools’ area when school officials received the tornado warning alert declaring a tornado had been spotted in South Hall County. In the aftermath of the tornado, all weather radios at local schools were found to be in working order, but officials enacted an additional severe weather safety precaution in late August that sends severe weather alerts directly to school leaders’ mobile phones.