MOORE, Okla. — Teachers and students at Plaza Towers Elementary School hunkered down against the storm just as they had been taught in countless tornado drills, their principal said Friday, recounting how she walked the halls until the twister was on the doorstep, then announced on the intercom, "It's here."
In a pause-filled recollection that left many weeping, Amy Simpson said at a news conference that her teachers emerged battered after doing what they could to save every child in the Oklahoma school. Still, seven second- and third-graders were among the 24 killed when the top-of-the-scale EF5 tornado with 210 mph winds struck Moore on Monday.
"The teachers covered themselves in debris while they were covering their babies. And I believe that is why so many of us survived that day, because the teachers were able to act quickly, stay calm and take literally the weight of a wall onto their bodies to save those that were under them," said Simpson, a native of the city of about 56,000.
The tornado was on the ground for 40 minutes and left a 17-mile path of destruction.
Its victims at the school were ages 8 and 9.
The Moore School District canceled its school year after the tornado hit Plaza Towers and the Briarwood school, where all students survived. District officials and teachers met with pupils and their parents Thursday to give everyone a chance to say goodbye before summer vacation.
Simpson said that, having been born and raised in Oklahoma, she knew what it meant to deal with tornadoes. The state, in the heart of Tornado Alley, has averaged more than 50 tornadoes per year since record-keeping began in 1950.
"Not one parent blamed us because they're Oklahomans, too, and they know what a tornado means and they know what it means in school," Simpson said. "We practice our procedures. We get in our safest places."