Friday, March 02, 2007
Smell of fresh cut lumber follows tornado

Military helicopters evacuate the injured from the high school after the tornado struck Thursday.

The news media hasn't been allowed inside the tornado-ravaged school building here in Enterprise, Alabama. But I can say that every public official who goes in there and comes out seems absolutely stunned that more people weren't hurt.

As I look around the school yard and see all the twisted metal and snapped trees, it seems to me that the evidence is all around us that if anybody had tried to leave the school and been caught in the open or in their cars by this tornado, then they probably would not have had a chance.

When I drove here today, I passed through a neighborhood behind the school. There was that telltale smell I always encounter when I am on the scene of a tornado -- the smell of fresh cut lumber. This is due to the chainsaws that always show up on the scene almost immediately to take down shattered trees and clear tree limbs off roads.

There were also a number of cars with flat tires, which is typical. When roofs peel off buildings during a tornado, you have nails and sharp pieces of metal all over the place. People drive over those and flatten their tires.

One government official said that this looks like an F3 or possibly F4 tornado. What struck me is that he said one rarely sees tornados this strong and this big this far south. He said this tornado was 200 yards wide.

The school was a direct hit, and still, officials are saying that the school was probably the safest place these kids could have been.
Posted By David Mattingly, CNN Correspondent: 5:27 PM ET
  12 Comments
The last statement is most likely the most important to take away from this tragedy. When I heard that kids were being sent home early from school (both in Enterprise and other states) I was flattened. As a meteorologist, I can't fathom the idea of sending these kids home in or slightly before the height of such a dangerous storm, especially in buses or cars, so they can go home into weaker structured homes where they will not most likely pay little attention to warnings that are coming out. Are our school systems that afraid of a lawsuit to send the children they are supposed to protect out into the storm?
Posted By Anonymous Gregg, Crofton MD : 6:24 PM ET
People die every day. Let's cut the hysteria and "deification of humans." We are NOT gods or immortals--stop clinging so desperately to life. Death is part of life; get over it!
Posted By Anonymous Mark, Sacramento, CA : 6:50 PM ET
I live accross the bridge from Montreal and today we are having the rest of the snow storm from the States. We are up to 12 inches,poor visibility and my co-workers were complaining until I told them to shut up,it would be melting in a few days anyway and at least, we weren't living through tornadoes. Then, I showed them CNN.COM. Nobody was complaining after that!!!
I wish you guys affected by those tornadoes a better tomorrow and that all your loved ones stay safe.
Personnaly,I would freak to learn that something happened at my son's school.I can't imagine what those parents,and kids,went through.
The winter of 2007 will be one to forget for you guys!

Joanne R.
Laval Quebec
Posted By Anonymous Joanne R.Laval Quebec : 7:16 PM ET
The children were in the safest place when they were in school. The school tornado drills and so forth are effective in saving lives. They are so fortunate that only five perished. Even though, it was five too many.

You never know where a tornado is going to strike. There is no drill to protect you from a direct hit. You just have to do the best that you can. It appears that that is what happened in Alabama. Let us all be grateful that the majority of the children survived the tornado and was able to go home to their parents. We must be mourn the five teens who died.

Like you said, if they had been out of school, the death toll would not have been only five teens, it would have been so much higher. Fortunately the young people were in school during that time.
Posted By Anonymous Madeliene Bolden, Atlanta, Georgia : 7:42 PM ET
Hi David:
I spoke to my nephnew, who is stationed at Fort Rucker Base which is in Enterprise. I was glad to hear our military responded so quickly with there helicopters to the scene.
It was a very wise move to keep those children in a shelter in place.
I can't think what a diaster it would have been with school buses on the highways loaded with students.
This is another challenge for FEMA to respond in the prompt and correct way to the people of Alabama.
Posted By Anonymous Mike, St.Amant La 70774 : 8:04 PM ET
Hi David,
It seems like no matter what disaster hits a town, whether it be a fire, flood, tornando, hurricane or earthquake, it has the same results. Lives destroyed, lives spared and the goodness in people comes rushing in. We all are in this together. Perhaps CNN could post some sites where we can donate. My thoughts and prayers go out to those whose lives have been challenged. Take Care
Posted By Anonymous Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif. : 9:31 PM ET
Seeing storms like this makes being housebound for two weeks because the snowploaw blocked my driveway seem like nothing. Some sore muscles from chipping ice and shoveling are temporary discomforts. Even those you came through this storm will probably carry the fear of it with them for the rest of their lives.
Posted By Anonymous Christina, Windber, PA : 10:03 PM ET
I swear it drives me crazy to hear all the people on the news trying to second guess how an emergency was handled. I have lived at Fort Rucker which is nestled up to Enterprise, and I would have never for a moment thought that those kids would not be safe in that school. The sad fact in this case is that the tornado was just too big and too strong for any building in that area to handle. Had those kids been let go at 1300 like many are suggesting they should have the headlines would most likely be much more grim than they are now. I firmly believe lives were saved by holding those kids at the school. This was just a tragic loss for everyone all around. Enterprise Alabama, I am truly sorry your the loss of lives, and pray that healing will come to those affected.
Posted By Anonymous Kimberly, Fort Hood TX : 12:57 AM ET
David/AC360:
If F3 or F4 tornadoes are happening this early in March, the tornado season is going to be a bad one. It is going to keep CNN and other news organizations very busy.

I know that smell of fresh cut lumber. Indianapolis southside was hit by a tornado a few years ago. The chainsaws buzzed none stop for days in a heavily mature trees residential area. For many, it was the destruction of those trees that upset many of the homeowners. The whole "look" of the community changed because of the lack of foliage as well as shade during hot Indiana summers.

Enterprise, Alabama is in our prayers. The loss of such young people is devastating to a small community. I really believe the school was the safest place for those students. I don't believe a "safe spot" exists during any natural disaster.
Posted By Anonymous Sharon D., Indianapolis, IN : 6:16 PM ET
Isn't it funny how smells trigger specific thoughts. When I saw the words "fresh cut lumber" my mind immediately went to the two homes I had built in the past--the excitement that goes with the expectation of realizing a dream. I was quickly jerked back into reality as I looked at the picture posted on my laptop. The visual of those helicopters hovering over the school in search of victims. Forever these people will relate differently to the sounds and smells around them. I began to think of how one moment everything in life if fine and how instantaneously all things normal can be taken away.
As a first grade teacher in a small rural area of northwest Tennessee I often wonder about just such a disaster taking place. Last week we practiced our first tornado drill of the season. Unpredictable weather patterns make us all vulnerable to nature's wrath. We usually go along and try not to dwell on those possibilities however there is always that chance. God bless all of those citizens of Alabama who have been devastated by the weather events of this past week!
Posted By Anonymous Zann Martin, Tennessee : 9:42 AM ET
And where are the international calls for donations to help this US community? Their offers of aid to clear the streets, set up emergency logistics, and rebuild the leveled homes and school? Let alone a contingent of a volunteer foreign "national guard" to bring materiel and supplies, and help them dig out the ruins?
Posted By Anonymous Robyn, Pittsville MD : 8:45 AM ET
I was so shocked to hear about the loss in Alabama, but I do agree that those kids were in probably the safest place possible. Many more lives could have been lost and I feel so badly for all the ones who did experience a loss. A tornado this bad, this early...makes me wonder what the REST of storm season is going to be like. I know where I live...LAST YEAR was horrible and I can only IMAGINE what this year will be like. I pray for everyones safety!
Posted By Anonymous Mae, Moberly, MO : 3:47 PM ET
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