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Students protect themselves during tornado drill
Exercise practiced along with 2 other severe weather drills
Fourth-grader Yury Campos, 9, covers her head with her hands Wednesday during a severe weather drill. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Students across the state had to take cover Wednesday morning.

At 9 a.m., schools' severe weather sirens blared as part of the National Weather Service's annual tornado warning drill.

Children sat against the hallway walls and covered their heads with their hands at Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School, just as they would if an actual warning was issued.

"Tornados are real to this area," said William Campbell, principal of the school. "We would be negligent if we didn't get kids ready for it."

He added that Fair Street was constructed in the wake of a powerful tornado in 1936, which decimated downtown Gainesville and killed more than 200.

Summer Hill Elementary School, the former school for African-American children in the area, was destroyed in that storm. Fair Street was built a year later in 1937.

According to Jerry Castleberry, Gainesville City Schools transportation director, Summer Hill was located at the current site of Fair Street Neighborhood Center.

Students practice the statewide tornado drill every year along with two additional severe weather drills in November and February.

"It does disrupt instruction time, but it's necessary," he said. "It's like laundry. It can be annoying but you have to wash your clothes."

Fair Street fourth-grader Eduardo Quezada said the drills have taught him to avoid glass in a storm, and how to stay safe at home.

"If a tornado is coming toward your house, you go to a place without windows so glass won't go in your body," he said.

The North Georgia area has seen its share of strong tornadoes, with particularly deadly ones in 1903, 1936 and 1998.

Hall County Schools spokesman Gordon Higgins said severe weather training and awareness helped keep students safe in 2008, when a tornado struck Oakwood and Lyman Hall elementary schools.

The storm pulled the roof off the gymnasium at Lyman Hall. Oakwood also had extensive damage, and air conditioning units were knocked off the building.

In both cases, students followed storm procedures and were eventually evacuated.

"Staff and students had been prepared, and everything went well considering the calamity of the situation. There were no injuries," he said.


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