Students returned to class Monday morning at a Paulding County elementary school that was in the path of a tornado that damaged more than 160 buildings in the county.
The Friday night tornado took part of the roof off one of three classroom wings at Poole Elementary School, and tossed around portable classroom trailers that were being used for storage.
School officials spent the weekend cleaning up debris from the school grounds, and on Monday moved students from the classrooms in the damaged wing to other parts of the building.
“Things look great this morning, other than the roof gone,” said Cliff Cole, superintendent of Paulding County schools. “The inside of the building looks great.”
He said the damaged wing had been blocked off to students. Officials said Monday afternoon repairs could take four to six weeks.
“Our first priority is the safety of the students and the staff here,” Cole told the AJC.
“Once we had our engineers out here and they checked out every structural part of the building, and once they determined it was safe, it was our job to prepare the rest of the building,” he said. “We worked two days going through the grounds to make sure there is no debris on the ground.”
Cole said that some students from another of the county’s schools, Roberts Elementary, came to Poole on Sunday with $300 in school supplies that they had collected in their neighborhood. They gave the supplies to teachers.
“Just to see these young ladies out doing that, and thinking about their peers at this school, it tells you something about this community,” Cole said.
“Attendance looks normal,” Cole said after classes began. “Students, I think, were just relieved to be back into the building.”
“I trust the school system,” said parent Jonathan Paris, whose daughter is a second-grader. "They would not put our children in harm’s way, and if there was anything that would jeopardize our children's safety, they wouldn’t allow it to happen."
The National Weather Service confirmed Sunday night that an EF-3 tornado with wind speeds up to 165 mph cut a 29-mile path of destruction through Haralson and Paulding counties west of Atlanta on Friday night.
A second, EF-1 tornado with winds estimated at 100 mph was on the ground for a mile in east Cobb County, the Weather Service said.
The most significant damage was in Paulding County, where the tornado ripped into the county's airport and a couple of neighboring subdivisions.
David Austin, chairman of the county commission, said Monday afternoon that he has declared a state of emergency. But the county likely won't be eligible for state or federal funding because most of the damage affected private structures, Austin said.
At least 163 buildings in Paulding County were damaged, Austin said. Officials reported that 14 homes were destroyed, 57 had moderate damage and 92 had minor damage. Also, the storm knocked over the steeple of Wayside Baptist Church and ripped off its roof.
The Weather Service said the tornado first touched down in Haralson County at 8:09 p.m. Friday, leaving a 200-yard wide path of destruction into Paulding County over the next 39 minutes. The weaker Cobb County tornado touched down along Roswell Road near Providence Road at 9:14 p.m., and lasted for about a minute.
Authorities said Friday night's storms left one person dead in Alpharetta. The body of Patricia Barnett, 83, was found in a creek early Saturday.
The Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport in Dallas was closed after taking a direct hit, but the runway may re-open by the end of the week, Airport Manager Blake Swafford said Monday afternoon. A hangar and its contents were destroyed, and the terminal building has a damaged roof and broken windows.
At a news conference Monday afternoon, Swafford said 18 of 23 planes were a total loss, including a Citation jet worth $1.2 million. Damage to the airport was estimated at $5 million. Facility damage totaling $2 million includes the hangar and terminal, as well as fences and lamp posts.
Channel 2 Action News meteorologist Karen Minton said a freeze warning was posted for Monday night. Tuesday will be sunny and cool, with highs in the mid-50s and lows Tuesday night in the low 40s. A midweek warm-up will push temperatures back into the low 70s by Thursday.
-- AJC staff writer Alexis Stevens, dispatch editor Fran Jeffries and photographer John Spink contributed to this report.
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