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MS town rebuilds after twister

The tornado that hit here April 24 caused more than $1 million in damage to the Brandon Elementary School.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | BRANDON, Miss. | May 5, 2003

"We've got a lot of people working and they've really worked miracles."

—Sue Townsend

The tornado that hit here April 24 caused more than $1 million in damage to the Brandon Elementary School, but that hasn't stopped teachers and students here from following their daily routines.

The two-story, 40-classroom building of about 1,000 pupils took a big hit from the storm, said Principal Sue Townsend. The cafeteria, kitchen, library, computer lab and administrative offices all incurred severe damage, and eight classrooms were rendered unusable.

Despite all that damage, classes were cancelled for only one day April 25, the day after the tornado.

By the end of that first weekend, however, parents, teachers, students and volunteers managed to bring enough semblance of order to the school that classes were able to resume on Monday.

The school is at the heart of the town, which has been rebuilding with the help of faith-based and community-based groups, including Church World Service.

At the school, the current situation is anything but normal, Townsend said. First off, eight classrooms of students needed to find a new place to study. Townsend came up with an ingenious, but temporary, solution: makeshift classrooms have been set up in almost every free square inch of floor space in the school, from partitioned areas in hallways and foyers, to spaces underneath stairwells.

And the school librarian and music teacher are doing things a bit differently. Both teachers go from class to class with their teaching materials stashed in Wal-Mart shopping carts.

Plus the P.A. system was knocked out by the tornado, and still hasn't been fixed. That problem has been overcome, she said, thanks to the help of parent volunteers who personally relay messages to the classrooms. Townsend calls the volunteers "our live intercom system."

Cleanup and repair is proceeding swiftly, she said, and at least three of the eight damaged classrooms were expected to be back in use sometime this week.

"We've got a lot of people working and they've really worked miracles," Townsend said. "People have pretty much been here from daylight to dark."

Three weeks of classes remain, so the discomfort caused by the tornado won't have to be endured much longer.

But the real challenge, Townsend said, is still to come students still need to take their state-mandated standardized tests before the school year ends. She is confident that her teachers will be able to pull off that difficult task, despite the circumstances.

"It's a juggling act," she said, "but we're doing it."

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