Deadly Tornado Sweeps Through Alabama School Eight students were killed when a tornado tore through an Alabama high school Thursday. We hear from Kristen Taylor of Alabama Public Radio and Ben Thompson, an art teacher who was at the high school when the tornado hit.
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Deadly Tornado Sweeps Through Alabama School

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Deadly Tornado Sweeps Through Alabama School

Deadly Tornado Sweeps Through Alabama School

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From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Luke Burbank.


And I'm Madeleine Brand.

Coming up, the real story of an award-winning photo that wasn't what it appeared to be.

BURBANK: But first, yesterday's violent weather across the Midwest and Southeast has claimed at least 20 lives, with that number expected to climb today. Eight of those deaths came in the town of Enterprise, Alabama where a tornado tore the roof of part of the town's high school, just as school was letting out, that killed eight students.

Joining me now from Enterprise is Kristen Taylor. She's a reporter with Alabama Public Radio. She's also a graduate of Enterprise High School back in 2002.

Hi, Kristen.

Ms. KRISTEN TAYLOR (Reporter, Alabama Public Radio): Hi, how are you?

BURBANK: I'm doing all right. How are you doing? You're looking at your high school, which is more or less destroyed. What's the scene there? Describe it for me.

Ms. TAYLOR: Well, right now, I can see the parking lot and there's cars - on top of cars, I can see the top of the high school where we had brand-new gymnasium built in a couple of years ago, and it's completely - the roof is just completely torn off.

BURBANK: I understand that you are standing near a teacher at Enterprise, who was actually in the building yesterday. Could you hand the phone to him for a moment?

Ms. TAYLOR: Oh, yes, I can.

Mr. BEN THOMPSON (Teacher, Enterprise High School): Hello.

BURBANK: Hi, you're Ben Thompson. You're an art teacher there, I understand.

Mr. THOMPSON: Yes. Yes, I am.

BURBANK: And you are in the building yesterday when this tornado came through?

Mr. THOMPSON: Yes. You know, we were on one of the halls. We weren't on the hall that collapsed but pretty much, you know, the majority of the school was severely damaged, but where we were, we were pretty lucky - the walls did not collapse, and all the kids, they were on our side, were okay.

BURBANK: And when you came out of your building and you saw what had happened, I mean, what went through your mind?

Mr. THOMPSON: Well, I mean it's, you know, it's pretty tough. There's a lot of devastation - you just can't imagine, you know, something like that happening. And, you know, just knowing that there's kids in there hurting and needing help and, you know, you feel helpless sometimes when you're in there just trying to do what you can. And it's just pretty rough, it's pretty tough.

BURBANK: Did you think it was some kind of a drill when it first happened? I mean, it must've - you must've still not really expected it, I guess.

Mr. THOMPSON: We knew there was bad weather. I mean, I was born and raised here, and nothing like this has ever happened in my lifetime. And the kids were lined up in the halls, and when they gave us the warning that the tornado was near, you know, the kids got down like they were supposed to, and were in the halls. And you just can't prepare for something like that.

BURBANK: Now, as we understand, there were eight people that died. You must have known some of those students. Do you have any thoughts on any of them?

Mr. THOMPSON: Yes, I knew a few of them and talked to some of them. Yeah, and my heart just goes out to the family. And I can't imagine what they are going through. I just wish there were something we could have done, you know, to save them.

BURBANK: Well, listen, Mr. Thompson, thank you for talking to us, and good luck. We'll be thinking about you guys.

Mr. THOMPSON: Okay. Well, thank you. Thank you.

BURBANK: That's Ben Thompson, an art teacher at Enterprise High School in Enterprise, Alabama, where eight students died during a tornado yesterday.

Hey, Kristen Taylor, are you still with us?

Ms. TAYLOR: Ah, yes.

BURBANK: Well, Kristen Taylor, with Alabama Public Radio, could you just tell me - you grew up in Enterprise, I guess, right? Or near by?

Ms. TAYLOR: I did. I have lived here since I was seven, so 1991. I'm about to turn 23, so I've been here for a while.

BURBANK: Tell me a little a bit about the town. What are the folks do there and is it an affluent town? Is it a middle-class town, working class?

Ms. TAYLOR: It's a middle class and a lot of military families are here. This is where a bunch of people retire, and my family being one. A real small town, everybody knows everybody, everybody helps out everybody any time there's, you know, situation like this, especially. I never known for the town to go through something like this.

BURBANK: Kristen Taylor of Alabama Public Radio, talking to us from Enterprise, Alabama.

Thanks, Kristen.

Ms. TAYLOR: All right, thank you.

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