EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

World/National News

May 21, 2014

Students return to school one year after tornado

Fears linger for students who faced deadly tornado

MOORE, Okla. (AP) — Ten-year-old Kai Heuangpraseuth will return to a new Plaza Towers Elementary in the fall, built on the same spot where seven of the boy’s schoolmates died last year after a top-scale tornado reduced it to a pile of rubble.

Christopher Legg will not be there, but his mother says perhaps her son’s death will hurt a little less if last May’s tragedy in Moore helps lead to safer schools.

One year after the deadly tornado carved a 17-mile path through the heart of this Oklahoma City suburb and killed 24 people, deep scars remain — especially for families who lost loved ones and children traumatized after riding out the fearsome storm inside two elementary schools.

Neither Plaza Towers nor nearby Briarwood Elementary had an underground shelter or tornado safe room, so when the tornado bore down, with winds speed exceeding 200 mph, the students huddled into hallways or crammed into bathrooms or closets. Most of the child victims died after a massive wall collapsed and suffocated them.

Kai, who was plucked from the school’s rubble by a police officer in a moment captured by an Associated Press photographer, is excited about the new school, but still troubled by bad weather and certain loud sounds.

“He’s still got his triggers,” said Kai’s mother, Jacalyn Russell, who plans to move back into the Plaza Towers district this summer. “It’s not really the rain. He likes the rain. It’s more the wind, and sounds that sound similar ... like the trains.”

Even the slightest turn in the weather can cause anxiety and fear for the surviving Plaza Towers students, who have been attending classes at a refurbished junior high since the storm, Principal Amy Simpson said.

“We try not to say ‘tornado’ around here,” said Simpson, who rode out the storm with five other staffers in a small bathroom. “Just the word scares them.”

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