Morgan, Magoffin schools reopen in temporary locations after tornado

gkocher1@herald-leader.comMarch 19, 2012 

  • Storm impact by the numbers

    Kentucky Emergency Management and FEMA have approved millions of dollars in assistance for survivors of this month's tornadoes.

    Nearly 3,600 survivors in designated counties have contacted FEMA for help or information regarding disaster assistance.

    To date:

    ■ Approximately $5.6 million has been approved for housing assistance, including short-term rental assistance and home-repair costs.

    ■ Approximately 850 households have received FEMA grants to help pay for temporary housing.

    ■ More than 2,200 homes sustained damages. Of those, more than 650 were destroyed.

    ■ Approximately $911,000 has been approved to cover other essential disaster-related needs, such as medical and dental expenses and lost personal possessions.

    ■ More than 1,950 inspections of damaged properties have been conducted.

    ■ Nine disaster-recovery centers are open.

    ■ More than 1,225 visits have been made to disaster-recovery centers by affected people.

  • Some government services resume

    After the deadly storms and tornadoes on March 2, Gov. Steve Beshear instructed all state government agencies and cabinets to assist in coordinating the restoration of government services in West Liberty.

    State agencies have helped re-establish services for local government offices, including the Morgan County sheriff, property valuation administrator, judge-executive and others.

    The offices for both the Morgan County clerk and the Morgan Circuit Court clerk are open in temporary quarters at West Liberty.

    The circuit clerk's office, which is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, is processing applications for driver's licenses and will soon resume all other services from inside the Morehead State University Academic Center at 155 University Drive in West Liberty. For information on the schedule of court dockets and hearings, contact the Office of the Circuit Court Clerk at (606) 743-3763.

    The Morgan County clerk's office was moving into a small construction trailer on the edge of downtown at 195 W. Main Street. The staff will eventually move into a larger temporary structure that is being assembled next to the trailer.

    The Morgan County judge-executive, PVA, county attorney, water district and Morgan County Emergency Management are working from the old Rifle Coal building at 1009 Highway 172 in West Liberty.

    ■ The Morgan County Sheriff's office is operating from a temporary trailer at 195 W. Main Street.

  • The 21 counties that are eligible for individual assistance are Bath, Campbell, Carroll, Grant, Grayson, Johnson, Kenton, Larue, Laurel, Lawrence, Magoffin, Martin, Menifee, Montgomery, Morgan, Ohio, Pendleton, Rowan, Russell, Trimble and Wolfe. Individual assistance for homeowners and renters can include grants to help pay for temporary housing, home repairs and other serious disaster-related expenses not met by insurance or other assistance programs.

    Seven counties — Grant, Laurel, Lawrence, Magoffin, Martin, Menifee and Morgan — were authorized to receive public assistance, which provides funds to designated counties to repair, restore, reconstruct or replace public facilities or infrastructure damaged or destroyed by the disaster.

  • Storm impact by the numbers

    Kentucky Emergency Management and FEMA have approved millions of dollars in assistance for survivors of this month's tornadoes.

    Nearly 3,600 survivors in designated counties have contacted FEMA for help or information regarding disaster assistance.

    To date:

    Approximately $5.6 million has been approved for housing assistance, including short-term rental assistance and home repair costs.

    Approximately 850 households have received FEMA grants to help pay for temporary housing.

    More than 2,200 homes sustained damages. Of those, more than 650 were destroyed.

    Approximately $911,000 has been approved to cover other essential disaster-related needs, such as medical and dental expenses and lost personal possessions.

    More than 1,950 inspections of damaged properties have been conducted.

    Nine disaster recovery centers are open.

    More than 1,225 visits have been made to disaster recovery centers by affected people.

WEST LIBERTY — Morgan County reached another milepost on the road to recovery Monday as 1,900 public school students returned to classes for the first time since the March 2 tornado ravaged the community.

The start of classes was especially triumphant for the staff and students of West Liberty Elementary School. Their school was destroyed, so they resumed their studies in the manufacturing and warehouse space formerly occupied by Boneal Inc.

"They seem to be adjusting well," school nurse Sandy McClure said as she surveyed the students eating lunch in the makeshift cafeteria.

Principal Vickie Oldfield said things went smoothly as students arrived Monday morning, and that most seemed glad to be back in class and have more stability in their lives after the storms.

"At first, I thought it would take us a week to get a routine going," Oldfield said. "Now I'm going to say three days. It isn't like home yet, but we're getting there, hopefully sooner rather than later."

Attendance was high in all the district's schools, ranging from 94 percent at Morgan County High to 99 percent at Morgan Central Elementary, Superintendent Deatrah Barnett said.

"That tells me that kids were ready to get back to school, and we love it," she said.

Reopening the schools was an essential part of moving forward, Barnett said.

"Research tells us that in order to heal, people need to be together," she said. "And we knew that we needed to get our kids back together. It gives them a sense of security. They finally see their friends. They know their friends are OK now. They can move on."

Classes also reopened Monday in Magoffin County, where the storms left both the Herald Whitaker Middle School and the Salyersville Grade School too damaged to be used. Instead, middle school students reported to the county high school Monday morning, and Salyersville Grade School students attended class in some old buildings that the Magoffin Public Schools own. Some modular units are being set up for extra space.

"It went more smoothly than I expected it would, so I'm pleased," Magoffin Superintendent Joe Hunley said. "A lot of people have put in some long hours to make it work."

The creation of a temporary school for West Liberty Elementary students is perhaps the most remarkable story in Monday's reopenings. With West Liberty Elementary School condemned after the March 2 tornado, the old Boneal building, on a hill above town, was the only place that could accommodate the kids.

A small army of people — architects, engineers and volunteers from a Virginia group called "God's Pit Crew" — pitched in and converted the old building into a school in less than a week.

Chuck Trimble, an architect with Lexington's Murphy + Graves Architects, said workers took measurements of the building on March 5, the Monday after the tornado, and then called architect Tim Murphy in Lexington. Murphy turned the measurements into working drawings, which were ready by noon that day. Construction started the next morning.

Trimble, a Morgan County native who attended the old West Liberty Elementary School, said that when workers started, they "weren't sure what we were going to do, but we were going to do something for the kids."

David Higgins, an engineer with Lexington's CMTA Consulting Engineers, said that after about two days of work, "it just came to me, that this thing actually had a chance of happening."

Acting on sudden inspiration, Higgins stuck a piece of cardboard on the wall and wrote on it: "Welcome to The Miracle on the Hill." The name stuck and became a watchword for the entire project.

"It's special what went on up there," Higgins said Monday.

West Liberty fifth-grade teacher Michelle McCarty said she allowed her students to talk about what they went through in the tornado for the first 90 minutes of class.

"We just kind of talked about the tornado and what their feelings and thoughts were about it," McCarty said. "They told about what they experienced and whether they were afraid."

The 580 students at Morgan County High School were asked to fill out a survey that asked whether they were displaced from their permanent home, what their concerns were, whether they would like private counseling, and whether anyone in their family needs assistance with food or clothing.

High school principal Joe Gamble said about 10 students requested counseling, which was available Monday.

Students at West Liberty Elementary appeared to be upbeat about getting back to class. Austin Holbrook, 11, a fifth-grader, said he thought the pizza, french fries, corn and peaches were "better than normal" fare at lunch.

The 580 students at West Liberty Elementary were fed from a mobile kitchen, a truck trailer, that was made available by Mercy Chefs, a faith-based disaster-relief agency. School employees used the trailer's double convection ovens, stove, freezer and sinks to prepare lunch and a sausage-biscuit breakfast.

"It's challenging," head cook Linda Adkins said. "You just have to make up your mind that you're going to do it."

Kitchen employee Hope Childers said she enjoyed cooking in the trailer because it reminded her of camping.

Gov. Steve Beshear took a walking tour through the classrooms, library and the temporary school district central offices under construction in the rear of the building.

"This is a pretty neat building, isn't it?" Beshear asked one class.

"Hel-lo gov-er-nor," chimed one class in unison as Beshear entered.

"It is just an amazing feat by this community to have these kids back here," Beshear said.

The schools, however, have a long wait ahead. West Liberty students will have to use the old Boneal building for at least a year until a new school is built, officials said. And Hunley, the Magoffin superintendent, said his students will be in temporary quarters that long or longer.

"Can we live with it? We have to," Hunley said. "This is what we're left with, and we have to make it work."

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305Twitter: @hlpublicsafety.

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