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Student: Twister blew through school like 'big explosion'

Story Highlights

• Students huddled in halls for two hours before tornado hit Alabama school
• Parents lined up to get students before tornado tore through Enterprise
NEW: Eight students who died identified
• School did everything it could, said FEMA chief and Alabama's governor
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ENTERPRISE, Alabama (CNN) -- Students inside Enterprise High School huddled in the halls, joking around and waiting out what they thought was a standard tornado drill.

The school then went black as the lights dimmed and glass from a skylight shattered to the ground.

"Everyone got really quiet -- we knew it was serious. No more than five seconds later, it was just like a big explosion and everything -- debris started hitting us," said Mitchell Mock, who was injured when the tornado struck Thursday in southeastern Alabama.

Mitchell, two brothers and his mother were all inside the school. Students had been crouched with their knees to their chins for nearly two hours. (Watch the twister scream into Enterprise Video)

The students were moved to the interior portions of the building, away from the windows, for their safety.

When the school took a direct hit shortly after 1 p.m. Thursday, no place was safe.

"I had a wall fall on top of me, and the roof fell on top of us," student Brent Smith said.

"There was just hundreds of kids coming down the hallway, and a lot of them were covered with blood," said Kim Lewis, Mitchell's mother.

Lewis said parents had driven to the school, trying to get to their children before the storm hit. (Watch weeping mom on how she and her boys survived the twister Video)

"I was just looking for my three boys," she said while crying.

As parents searched the halls, school officials told them to get into the guidance counselor's office and shut the door, Lewis said.

"In a few seconds they started screaming, 'There's a tornado!' It went black -- it hit right that fast," she said.

Lewis and her sons survived. Eight students -- and 12 others throughout Missouri, Alabama and Georgia -- did not.

The Enterprise School Board identified the dead as Michael J. Bowen, 16, a junior; Peter James Dunn II, 16, a junior; Andrew Joel Jackson, 16, a junior; Ryan Andrew Mohler 17, a junior; Kathryn Madora Strunk, 16, a sophomore; Michael D. Tompkins, 17, a senior; Jamie Ann Vidensek, 17, a senior; and Alice Michellle Wilson, 16, a sophomore.

Dylan Lewis suffered a broken collarbone. He climbed out from the debris and looked at the destruction.

"There were no more people -- it was just cement and air-conditioning parts," he said.

He and his brothers helped rescue others before they went to the emergency room.

FEMA chief: School 'totally right'

School officials received a warning at about 11 a.m. that a tornado could pass through Enterprise, a town west of Dothan. They moved students right away.

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley said people in the school "saved a lot of lives by doing what they did."

"There are certain things [that are] going to happen to cause a loss of life that we can't control," he said.

"Based on what they knew at the time yesterday and the decisions they made," he added, "I think they were totally right."

David Paulison, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the school "did the right thing" by moving students to the center of the building, into the basement and a safe room.

"It was just a tragedy that nobody could have predicted was going to happen," Paulison said.

Urban search and rescue teams "did a great job" getting people out who were trapped, Paulison said.

"Everything was done that was supposed to be done."


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