Enterprise, Ala., March 1, 2007 -- School and city officials are pleading for residents and the curious to stay off of Enterprise streets and asking for people to pray for the residents of the town in the aftermath of a deadly tornado which struck the city around 12:45 p.m. on Thursday. A dusk to dawn curfew has been imposed.
The assistant superintendent for Enterprise City Schools, Bob Ferris, spoke emotionally and from his heart. His first words at an evening news conference. "The first think I'd like to say is we need your prayers."
"Please stay away from debris ridden areas, particularly Enterprise High School," Mayor Kenneth Boswell pleaded. "We need roads clear so that personnel can maneuver safely."
Students who survived the whirlwind which engulfed Enterprise High School spoke of seeing students hurt as the roof caved in an area known as third hall at the school. An earlier witness to the tornado, Hunter Scott, told WSFA he thought the tornado was at least "800 yards wide."
Dothan resident Barry Mott was driving down the road in Enterprise when the tornado crossed the road in front of them (later they checked the distance at a little less than half a mile.) "We had to stop in the road, do a U-turn and run for our lives," says Mott.
Coach Nathan McDaniel from Daleville H.S. went to the school to try to help and described a scene where cars were turned over and "roofs are off... It's truly devastating, if you haven't seen (anything like this) pray you don't."
Enterprise High School basically does not exist any more. The storm made a huge, devastating impact on the city of Enterprise. People walked around with stunned, glazed over expressions on their faces.
One student, named Caleb, was in the science wing when the tornado came through and the roof caved in. He says the bricks came in and injured people. "You see stuff like this on the news all the time and you don't know what's going to happen. It's pretty bad, I don't really know how to describe it. " As to fatalities, "I've heard but I don't want to comment on that; I wouldn't doubt it. "
Another witness claims to have gone into third hall and helped remove "two dead little girls. It's very disturbing..They're not moving, they've got a full morgue over there...six.. I don't feel right, right now...It's the first time I've ever seen something like this...the school coach, he had a couple of injuries - a deep gash in his knuckles and gash on his leg...We took him to the triage they have over there they set up behind the school..."
Matt, a high school senior, was "right beside the library pretty close to the office where it actually hit first. We were sitting and they told us to get close and duck our heads. All of a sudden it started to get darker and our ears starting popping. I saw debris coming from the front office. It started getting bad. It started getting worse and worse and then it just stopped."
Matt says he was not calm. "I really didn't know what to think when it hit. You never know anything until you're put in that situation. " He says he did hear a ceiling fell on two students but he wasn't "close to them. They say the third hall did collapse, the ceiling collapsed. We never got to make it that far, so it's just what people are saying right now."
Ferris says,"We do not yet know the full extent of the student or school personnel injuries. We do know that there are some injuries. I don not have confirmation of any fatalities, but this is not beyond the realm of possibility."
Late into the night excavation crews continued to work to try and lift a wall off the collapsed ceiling to see what they could find and unfortunately they found the bodies of three students.
More requests for prayer followed. "Again we ask for you to continue to pray for our students and their parents and for our community. To my knowledge we have not had a storm this severe in several decades, if ever before."
In downtown Enterprise the streets are filled with debris, fallen utility poles, uprooted trees and twisted metal. Businesses that were once thriving are now only vacant shells.
Resident Mary Shadid says,"It's just really sad to see what we're going through. We can't find most of our family. Don't know where they're at, so you don't know how to get in touch with them. They're still pulling bodies out...so we really don't know."
The toughest part, residents say, is trying to decide what to do next.
But Congressman Terry Everett says the people of Enterprise are resiliant and "over the years have shown great courage and I can tell you it's going to be tough...they are our close friends but we know well. As bad as the situation is, they are the kind of folks that will pull the town back together."
Governor Bob Riley will tour the devastated area starting around 10 a.m. Friday morning.
For people needing shelter in the area the First Baptist Church on Main Street and the Civic Center will serve as shelters.