Clearwater, FL Tornado Hits School, May 1978
"I STILL SEE WINDOWS COMING AT ME"
CLEARWATER SCHOOL HORROR LINGERS IN WAKE OF TWISTER KILLING 2; 95 HURT.
Clearwater, Fla. (UPI) -- MATTI RAMSEY had her bingo card almost full when the lights went out and she saw the shadow of the tornado zip past, hurling the top of an oak tree into her fifth grade classroom.
"Everything started coming in through the windows -- wind, rain, wood and stuff. The roof blew right off. It slung me up against the wall. I threw my arms up in front of my face," MATTI, 12, said, pointing to the rows of glass sliver cuts from her wrist to her shoulder.
Within 2 or 3 minutes at 11:40 a.m. Thursday, a howling tornado demolished High Point Elementary School, killing two children and injuring 95 other students and teachers.
The dead were identified as JOHN TIMOTHY DUVAL, JR., who was celebrating his sixth birthday, and 5-year-old GARY STALY.
(Transcriber's Note: Another child, SCOTTY WILMOT, aged 6, passed away in a hospital 9 days after the disaster.)
"The teacher told us to crouch down against the blackboard and keep our heads down. Everybody was hollering and you couldn't even hear with all the noise," she said.
"Wood and stuff was piled on me and I couldn't get out. It fell on my back," said MATTI, showing her bruised. "The walls were falling down, and rain and wind and wood was blowing in. Everybody was hollering for help. But nobody came."
"My best friend, DENISE RILEY, was trapped underneath all the wood. I crawled out, then tried to get her out. I tried pulling up on this big board, but everytime I lifted it up, it would slip back."
MATTI couldn't get her out. Later she learned DENISE had been rescued, treated for cuts and scratches and released.
"Kids were up in the air. Then, they were just laying on top. Most were cut up and hollering for help."
"Their heads were busted open, some had fingers cut off, even," she said. "Some got killed. They were stuck under the wood -- they couldn't get out. I couldn't get them out."
"I was crying and yelling for my momma, saying I wanted to go home," she said, "then something told me to run and get my little brother."
She ran into the glass littered hall where wooden rafters lay strewn catty-corner, almost blocking the passage. "The teachers were yelling, 'Walk, walk, you could hit something and make the roof cave in.' I said 'No' and just kept running."
MATTI found her 8-year-old brother, GEORGE HARPER, and they huddled together in the cafeteria until their aunt picked them up. GEORGE was X-rayed at Morton Plante Hospital and released.
After being treated for the cuts on her arm and bruises on her back and stomach, MATTI was also released.
"I can still see it," MATTI said with wide eyes. "I'll always remember it. I can still see the windows coming at me."
Both of the dead children were in the class of ELIZABETH LOVELY. Before the tornado struck, MRS. LOVELY said she tried singing as a distraction.
"We were singing like mad, songs about the rain and such. I had the record player going and everytime the lightning struck the children would holler. I would say, 'MRS LOVELY would take care of you.'"
"I don't know what I am going to do," said the 58-year-old teacher, who was hospitalized with leg and foot injuries. "I don't know why it couldn't have been me. I've lived my life."
Teachers ordered youngsters to lay on the floor to try to escape the twister's fury. Children wailed in panic.
When the whirlwind subsided, volunteers from a nearby vocational school rushed to the site and pulled bricks, tables and chairs off bleeding children.
Sobbing parents sprinted or drove to the school or hospitals and shelters hunting their children.
The REV. CARY HOWE was among the rescuers. He said he pulled the DUVAL boy and another 6 year-old from the rubble.
"I took the two that seemed the worst off and drove them myself to the hospital. Both children had been hit hard by the collapsing roof," he said.
Thursday was TIMMY DUVAL'S birthday. His mother SUSAN, 28 and four months pregnant, delivered the cookies to the school two hours before disaster struck. She planned to return later for a classroom party.
The banana-seat bicycle sat in a garage of the modest home where TIMMY lived with his mother and his father, MIMOTHY SR., a mailman.
The DUVALS went into seclusion but an aunt, JOAN DUVAL, said, "It's kind of hard to send your child to school one day then find out that he'll never be coming home again."
Chronicle Telegram Elyria Ohio 1978-05-05