Clearwater, FL Tornado Hits School, May 1978

Clearwater FL  High Point Elementary After Tornado.jpg



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


Tornado Tonado Tornado

I will never foget this day. I was in the Kindergarten pod From what I remember is that we went to the cafeteria for lunch. We were sitting there and it seemed like kids were yelling tornado tornado tornado. Then the teacher lined us up to get back to our pod. When walking back I remember the stillness and it was as if it were nightime with dark black clouds. Once in the classroom we ducked and took cover under our desk and kis were screaming and you it sounded like a loud train coming through then it was gone. I remember the teacher saying the roof was leaking and there was no power. Then I dont remember much else except for going outside and I could see stuff flying in the air from a distance. There seemed to be like a tent set up and the red cross or someone was handing out hot chocolate. My older brother was in Mrs Lovelys class and somehow we met up. Somebody drove my brother and I home in a volkswagon. If I remember correctly we lived off of George Blvd. Thank you for the teachers that gave us guidance on what to do during this tragedy.

Highpoint elementary tornado

I survived that Toronto. I was in the fifth grade, we are all so lucky to be alive except for the 2 1st graders so sad.I feel that I am luckier than the rest we were in a portable class room nothing more than a trailer I remember like it was yesterday. It was raining so hard and really loud and then it stopped no sound nothing. Then all Hell had broken lose the building was lifted off the ground and started to spin then it dropped us to the ground. The classroom split in two on the floor and we couldn't get out the doors wouldn't open. Then the air conditioner exploded and lit on fire, thank God for the people at the adult vo-tec. school behind us they rescued us. The whole school was completely destroyed their was school buses tossed 5 miles away and I still

wonder how I survived. Thanks for reading. Scott.


The teachers today are well trained for emergencies like tornados and also other disastrous events. Schools are built much better than 30 plus years ago. Such a tragedy. I pray it will never happen again.

high point after

we moved to Florida after this tragedy. I attended High Point Elementary in 1981 and 1982. I loved it!! I was starting school and could spell "school" which I enthusiastically demonstrated for the office staff. I also lied to them by telling them my name was "Cindy"-I hated my name!! I remember the duck and cover drills. My Kindergarten teacher was Ms. Reinhart and she was wonderful, (although I do remember sitting in time out by the cubbies for forgetting my flashcards). What a wonderful Kindergarten class it was, too! I still use it as a "litmus test" of other schools. I know our class was in the main building but I do remember the Kindergarten pod. I remember our class staying there for a while and even having a sleepover there one night. I have fond memories of the school. I recall hearing of the tornado only once while at my sitters. I want to say that she lived across the street away but not the towards the trailer park maybe towards the north? She had an article about it or an obituary taped to the back of a bedroom door. I was only 6 so I don't clearly remember which; I do feel as if she knew one of the victims. I do remember thinking that I didn't understand that children could die. We had lived on Verona Lane which as I recall was in walking distance of the school. It seems odd to me to say but I cannot imagine allowing my children to do the same Somebody had mentioned that this was a time when a teacher thought of her students as her children, having children in elementary school myself I yearn for that kind of bond for them. I had attended there only a few years after and never knew the effect it had caused. I stumbled on to this site while looking for something else. Letters for a bracelet, which led to "The Letter People" which then lead me here. Such young children to have lived thru something so tragic in an era which no one had any clue about the lingering effects. we had a year later moved to the trailer park across the street. no one discussed it there either.

1978 Tornorda High Point Elementary School

I reminder that day very well! Lived several miles down the road with my 8 month old son and husband! That was a rough day!!! Husband was at work. It sure did get dark outside and the storms! All I could do was lay on top of my 8 month old son!!! But thank God we made it!!

I was also in Mrs. Hill's

I was also in Mrs. Hill's first grade class that day. Our classroom was right across the hall from the kindergarten class where the two little boys were killed. To this day, I still think about those two innocent little guys whose life was tragically taken from them. I can still remember that day so clearly. I can even still remember exactly what I was wearing that day. I remember it getting so very dark outside, almost like it was nighttime. The wind was just howling so loud. The rain was just pouring. The next thing I remember was Mrs. Hill yelling at us to get down on the floor and duck and cover. I laid flat on my stomach across the floor and covered the back of my head with my hands and arms and closed my eyes tight. All I heard then was a loud siren going off, then the windows started shattering and exploding. I could hear and feel the wind twisting through fiercely. I could also feel the pieces of glass flying around and hitting me. Then silence. That's when a rescue worker picked me up. As he was carrying me through the rumble, I could see the whole school had been leveled. Glass had sliced my elbow open and I was bleeding a lot. Someone had me hold napkins on it. The next thing I remember was being put on a bus and taken to the hospital. I ended up with seven stitches. My scar is still visibly there. I've never been more terrified in my life and will never forget that day. For the next three years, any kind of storm scared me to death. To the point where I would start shaking terribly. Fortunately, storms no longer scare me at all. I still live locally.

My twin sister Marilyn and my

My twin sister Marilyn and my sister Cheryl , 3 years younger went to high point and walked to school every day . I will never ever forget what happened and doing split shifts at belcher. That day forever saddens me. Wish the best for all those lives were ever changed.

Mrs. Lovely's class

I hope you get this. I was also in you class and have been searching for years and researching everything about that day. It is so nice to see your post. Please email me if you ever get this. :)

I can remember that day May 4th 1978

I was in 3rd grade when the tornado hit. I remember the Mrs.Britton our teacher opening windows an telling us to get down. It was scary that day. The shy was an odd color it was greenish grayish then all at once it was black. then a few minutes later the lights went out. Then the windows started to blow out. An then it was over.

High point, Mrs. Damon's class

I to was in mrs Damon's class. I remember it was raining so hard that we had to wait before we changed classes to mrs gardeners class. The lights started blinking in and out, then the A/C unit blew and caught on fire. I felt the portable being picked up and once it landed back down, the floor under me lifted my desk and knocked me over. It happened so fast that the next thing I remember was a girl tring to get out the door and had to pry it open. The first person I seen outside was mrs. Gardener. Her hair was a mess. I was never told to go to any other class rooms. I remember walking around with two kids for a short while til they found there family, but I don't remember there names. So I just walked home. (Mockingbird lane) after a short while, I got bored so I went back to the store to get something to drink and then back home. My neighbor saw me when I got back home and said my mom had been looking and waiting for me at the school. I never really talked to her about that afterwards. I know for a few nights I couldn't sleep. To this day when the weather starts to get bad, I get nervous and really pay attention to the weather. I have a bunch of pics I took of the school the next day or so after if anyone is interested in seeing. I can be emailed at (richard845 at yahoo) or if anyone remembers me. I have a bad memory with names but would like to hear from others.
To whom ever started this, I'd like to say thanks. It has brought back a lot that I had forgotten about.