Tornado drill hits close to Tippecanoe Co. students

Students in Tippecanoe County participate in Thursday's tornado drill.
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Thursday's statewide tornado drill hit a little close to home for some Indiana students.

You don't have to convince some Tippecanoe County students about the importance of preparing for severe storms. Tornadoes tore up two schools there last year. Security cameras rolled as the storm rolled through. The video is a lesson other schools and students simply can't ignore.

Inside Wea Ridge Middle School just outside Lafayette, the tornado drill Thursday felt like the real deal. While the alarm sounded, students quietly left their classrooms. There was no laughing, no joking and, except for teachers, no talking. Once inside a "safe area" they got on their knees, lowered their heads and covered up.

This was serious stuff for 8th grader Hunter Meihls.

"When I am sitting there, I am thinking of how our school was destroyed," he said.

Two Tippecanoe Community Schools were nearly destroyed by a November tornado. Although it was a weekend and no children were in the building, it is still pretty scary.

"Yes, it might happen again," said Angelina Rodriguez, a 7th grader. "You have to think about it."

"That could happen to anyone at anytime and if we were there during that..." Miehls said, pausing, not wanting to think about it.

But teachers and administrators have.

The video shows the gymnasium of Southwestern Middle School blown wide open, the cafeteria swept with debris, and ceilings falling into hallways. It all reaffirmed their safety plans. Children then, like today, would have left classrooms and hunkered down in windowless interior rooms.

Amy Craig, a social studies teacher, tried to reassure her class.

"We know we made good calls," she told them.

Now, other schools and public safety agencies are calling on Tippecanoe School Corporation and using the videos to improve their safety plans.

"It's been a valuable learning tool for more than just the remaining TCS schools," explained Superintendent Dr. Scott Hanback. "But also, I think schools across the state and businesses in Lafayette."

Mintonye Elementary should reopen in August. Workers are already busy making repairs. The more heavily damaged Southwestern Middle School probably won't be ready for students until January.

For Angelina and a lot of her classmates, that day can't come soon enough.

"I'm scared it might happen again," she admitted. "I'm sort of getting used to this school, but I want to go back to our school."

About 1,000 elementary and middle school students, along with their teachers and principals, have moved to other schools. Damages to the two buildings are estimated at $12 million and climbing. The superintendent says the more architects and engineers look at them, the more problems they find.

Meanwhile, the community and corporations have donated roughly $70,000 to pay for supplies and equipment not covered by insurance.