PETAL, MS (WLOX) - Several South Mississippi communities started the week out of sorts. The deadly tornado that ripped through the Pine Belt left areas of Hattiesburg and Petal in shambles.
The Petal School District is having to improvise to keep classes going.
The EF-3 twister showed its destructive force in several neighborhoods throughout Petal. One of the most extensively damaged areas was the neighborhood surrounding Petal Upper Elementary.
Not only did the storm displace students and their families from their homes, it also damaged their classrooms.
"I can't believe it happened here," said Kelton Sims, a junior at Petal High School.
Sims and other students were shaken up a bit by the devastation.
"Seeing friends' houses the way they are," said freshman Hunter Simon.
"I did not expect it to be like this," agreed Brett Lawless.
"It's pretty crazy. The one that came through couple years ago was pretty bad, but it didn't do this much damage," said junior Joshua Young.
If the twister that came through in 2013 taught the City of Petal anything, it was the strength the community had coming together, according to Petal School District Superintendent Dr. Matt Dillon.
"We are a resilient community. You can see our theme is the Petal way, and we've invited that over the past few days. Everybody pitching in and doing everything necessary to step up," said Dillon.
A lot of the effort was going toward getting Petal Upper Elementary back up and running. Layers of the school's roof had been peeled back by the tornado, filling the classrooms with water.
The entire school district had Monday off while administrators had the task of moving classes to Petal Harvey Baptist Church. Even though students could have been enjoying a relaxing day away from school, several were putting in hard work instead to help inch closer to a sense of normalcy.
"Somebody's got to clean it up," said Brett.
"When something happens, you just have to pick up the slack and keep going. We're all a family," agreed Hunter.
For school administration already dealing with the crippling logistics of getting back to class as soon as possible, this kind of help is a godsend.
"That part's been really special. It's been really overwhelming, the support we've gotten here in such a short amount of time," said Petal Upper Principal Rob Knight.
Students, like Joshua, said helping is just another way of expressing faith.
"It's just what the Lord would do," said Joshua.
It's that faith that many of these students credited with helping them make it through the storm.
The faculty and staff are meeting throughout the day to work out the details, but they hope to have students back in class as soon as possible. The other schools in the district didn't sustain as much damage and were fully habitable as soon as power was restored.
If you are able to offer monetary assistance, please consider donating to the Mississippi Disaster Recovery Fund. Donations to will be accepted at any BankPlus branch, or you can send a check to:
Mississippi Disaster Recovery Fund
4450 Old Canton Road, Suite 101
Jackson, MS 39211
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