National News

Aug 16, 2013 8:44 AM

New School Year Awaits Kids Who Survived Twister

MOORE, Okla. - Nearly three months after a twister blasted through this Oklahoma City suburb and destroyed two elementary schools, officials and many families hope Friday's start of a new school year will help students put the memory of the deadly tornado behind them.

Though many families are ready to return to a familiar routine, parents and teachers say the town's children have fears that are still fresh and a lot more healing to do.

Seven students at the Plaza Towers Elementary School were among the 24 people killed by the EF-5 twister that wrecked scores of homes and businesses along a 17-mile path through the heart of Moore on May 20. Students at Plaza Towers and nearby Briarwood Elementary, which also was destroyed, will attend classes in temporary buildings at least for this school year.

"I'm a little nervous about the beginning of school because I want the kids so badly to feel good and comfortable at school," said Plaza Towers Principal Amy Simpson, who took cover from the storm in a 4-by-5-foot bathroom with her office staff and emerged to find a mangled car on a co-worker's desk.

Since the storm, different students have found different ways to cope with their memories of the mayhem. Haley Delgado, 8, carries headphones to block out the noise of the wind and her brother, Xavier, 10, says he is scared by loud thunder.

Ruby Macias, 9, who was trapped under the same wall that crushed her classmates, remembers the screaming and the crying.

"She says she dreams about her friend," said Ruby's mother, Veronica Macias. "I don't know what to tell her."

The site where the Plaza Towers school once stood, in the heart of a neighborhood decimated by the tornado, has become a makeshift memorial for the dead and a meeting spot for volunteers, even though there is just a slab where the school used to be.

A handful of wind-battered trees are beginning to grow new leaves and branches again. Seven crosses, each carrying the name of a child killed in the storm, are accompanied by an eighth that has a black "7'' inside a red heart.

"I'm not going to act as though those first couple of weeks (after the storm) weren't so terribly difficult, because they were," said Superintendent Robert Romines, a longtime Moore resident who took the district's top post over the summer. "But since that day, we have turned a lot of corners. After our last funeral, we turned a corner."

The district will build new schools at the sites of the old ones; the new ones will have tornado-safe rooms.

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