Petal Upper Elementary ready for students after deadly tornado

Petal Upper Elementary ready for students after deadly tornado
Source: WDAM
Board still shows date before deadly tornado. Source: WDAM
Board still shows date before deadly tornado. Source: WDAM

PETAL, MS (WDAM) - Petal Upper Elementary School was bustling Saturday morning with teachers, staff and volunteers getting the school ready for students to return Monday.

The school was damaged when the EF-3 tornado moved through Petal and Hattiesburg in January.  The school had extensive damage to its roof and awnings, as well as flooding in most of the hallways.

"We're very excited to be moving back into our school," said PUES Principal Rob Knight.  "A lot of hard work has gone in to this process, a lot of planning."

The district was able to move all students down the street to Petal Harvey Baptist the week following the storm.  Classes have been held at the church since the storm hit.

"Petal Harvey has been a gracious host, couldn't ask for better accommodations," Knight said.  "But, there's no place like home."

Teachers, staff and volunteers spent the morning unpacking boxes and wiping down dusty desks and classrooms.

Knight said the roof of three of the buildings had to be replaced, which caused dust and debris to fall through almost all of the school.

"I could not be prouder of our staff, of our students and off our community," said Knight.  "Everybody rallied around our school, offered their support. It's really one of our finer moments facing this adversity."

Teachers Angela Cline and Ed Kemp were unpacking Saturday morning, their classrooms located in the front hallway where a roof was replaced.  Cline said she is excited to get "back to normal," while Kemp said he's happy to have all his supplies available.

"It will be great, back to business as usual," said Kemp.   "We will be able to conduct classes like we normally do. It will be fantastic."

About 15 volunteers with Mississippi Power's "Community Connection" were also on hand, helping clean-up the property for students.  District Engineer Matt Ball attended Petal Upper Elementary School and said he hadn't been back to the school until after the tornado hit.

"It definitely hit home and I definitely took it to heart," said Ball.  "We wanted to help out however we possibly could, to get the restoration efforts going and to get the school back going for Monday."