Beverly Newsome’s children brought up the subject at dinner Monday evening of the killer tornado that roared through two Oklahoma schools earlier in the day.
“I can’t even go there -- I can’t talk about that,” said Newsome, principal at McKee Road Elementary School in southeast Mecklenburg County.
To a school principal like Newsome, the thought of a devastating storm killing and injuring students and staff is difficult to deal with. But Monday’s events meant a little more to Newsome, because she experienced something similar nearly nine years ago.
In September 2004, Newsome was principal at Lake Wylie Elementary School in southwest Mecklenburg.
On Sept. 7, the remnants of Hurricane Frances were pushing northward across eastern Georgia and South Carolina. Several dozen tornadoes were triggered that day, and one twister crossed from northern York County into southwest Mecklenburg about 11 a.m.
A tornado warning was issued by the National Weather Service, and the weather alert radio sounded in Newsome’s office at Lake Wylie.
Her immediate thought: getting the school’s 1,300 students and staff -- many of whom were housed in the 30 to 40 mobile classroom units that are particularly dangerous in strong wind storms -- to a safe place.
“Our biggest concern was getting everyone into a secure building, away from windows, and into a secure place,” she said.
Calmly but firmly, Newsome ordered students and staff to move immediately into the main building. As clouds darkened and winds increased, Lake Wylie’s students moved into the hallway and crouched down.
The tornado, rated as an EF-2 (on a scale of 0 to 5), caused more than $150,000 damage in southwest Mecklenburg County but missed the school.
“What I remember is the calm,” Newsome recalled Tuesday. “Everyone knew we were on alert.
“We had practiced the drill many times. And when we needed it, things worked.”
At the time, the Observer interviewed a 6-year-old student who said her teacher, Meredith Short, “hugged me, and told me there was nothing to be afraid of.”
Newsome said her job -- and the job of other staff members -- is to remain calm.
“Even if I’m scared to death, it can’t show in my voice,” she said. “But as a principal, the concern overwhelms you. You become everyone’s mother.”
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