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Cairo students participate in tornado drill

Published: Feb. 3, 2021 at 5:08 PM CST
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CAIRO, Ga. (WCTV) - Many in Cairo, Ga. woke up to crisp air and a blue sky, but students inside of Southside Elementary were practicing for a worst-case scenario.

Curling up against the hallway walls, these children were participating in a tornado drill so that they know what to do in case a darkening sky aims a tornado toward their school.

Christina Issac, an assistant principal at Southside and a self-described weather geek, made the call on the intercom from an office at 9 a.m. notifying students it was time to head to the hallway. Before she repeated the message a second time, students could be heard already entering the hallway nearby.

“The students all leave the classroom and go out into the hallway and crouch down on the floor like an armadillo, on of my kids said,” Delann Connell, a 2nd grade teacher, said after the drill.

Administrators said the planning ahead of time is a key to keeping students calm in case the real thing happens.

“A lot of times, the kids might not understand what’s going on and they may panic,” Issac said. “But, having a plan in place minimizes that happening in an event that a real tornado coming in Cairo.”

The drill was part of Georgia’s Severe Weather Awareness Week. Florida had their own tornado drill for the state’s own Severe Weather Awareness Week at 10 a.m. Wednesday. The awareness week’s goal is to educate residents on the hazards and how to prepare for them. But many in the Cairo area have had their share of destructive weather in the last few years.

On the evening of March 3, 2019, a tornado hit the town of over 9,000. It was rated an EF-2 with maximum winds of 120 mph as it damaged and destroyed buildings, and knocked down trees. It also caused two injuries. The twister also went through the city almost five months after Hurricane Michael made landfall and traveled through Southwest Georgia.

“[It] hit more at home for them because four months before, Hurricane Michael was a reality check for them, as well,” Issac said. “Even though it was a different event, they just remembered the rain and the winds from Hurricane Michael. And the tornado might have been just as traumatic for them, experiencing it at their houses.”

The school only had damage to their ceiling in one of the buildings and the playground from the 2019 tornado, but some of the residents don’t forget.

“Riding through town and seeing it for yourself, I actually cried on my way to work because it was just something,” Issac recalled. “I’ve lived in Cairo for over 20 years. I’d never seen that amount of destruction in my community.”

Most of the structures have been fixed, though at least one home that appeared to be abandoned still had blue tarps on the roof. The winds were much calmer that morning of the drill, but students huddled in the halls for a short time so they know what to do if nature decided to bring its wrath back into town.

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