POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A head custodian said he felt the walls move as he was hiding in a closet when an EF2 tornado tore through Polk County Friday night.
“The walls started heaving in and out in my custodial closet. I have a metal drawer door that goes up and down, it was banging. It was just banging. Wood started falling in,” said Rodney Jamerson, who has worked at Kathleen Middle School for more than a decade.
The National Weather Service said the tornado registered as an EF-2 with max sustained winds of 120 mph. The NWS report also stated the preliminary estimates have damage to around 50 homes.
The tornado ripped half the roof off Kathleen Middle School, making the historic school uninhabitable for up to a year.
“My heart just dropped. Because to look at the severity of that and to be blessed not to do like the Wizard of Oz, I’m good!” said Jamerson.
Crews worked through the weekend and through Monday to begin restoring the school that was built in 1927.
“They are doing an emergency restoration. Basically they’re drying out the building. There’s not much in there they can salvage but whatever they can they will and they’re putting on temporary roofing to make sure there isn’t any more damage,” said John Hill, Polk County Public Schools deputy superintendent.
Class is canceled for Kathleen Middle School students through Tuesday.
Hill could not definitively say when they will be back in the classroom.
Portable classrooms are being brought in to house students, along with other buildings on campus that were not damaged by the storm.
“We got to make sure all the safety features are attached to the portables. Gotta have electricity, power, got to have all your alarm systems, got to have restrooms. In addition to that, we got to make sure the campus is secure, got to have our textbooks, got to set up the classrooms,” said Hill.
School supply donations are being collected for Kathleen Middle School teachers.
Items can be dropped off at the Polk Education Association office at 730 E. Davidson Street, Bartow, FL 33830, according to Polk County Public Schools.
Items can also be dropped off at the Horace Mann Insurance office at 5600 U.S. Highway 98 N., Lakeland, FL 33809.
Those wishing to send checks or money orders can mail them to the Polk Education Foundation: 1530 Shumate Drive, Bartow, FL 33830. Donations can also be made online at https://polkschoolsfl.com/pef/donate/.
“Kathleen was here yesterday. It’s here today and it’s going to be here tomorrow. We’re sticking together and thank you Kathleen community,” said Sheila Gregory, Kathleen Middle School principal.
“This school has serious history,” said Jamerson. “There’s people in this community that went here, worked here and all that. As long as I’ve been here, it’s become a part of me as well. For all of this to be going on, it’s hurtful.”
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