Avalon superintendent recounts blessings in tornado aftermath

The Avalon gym that sheltered 100 people during the April 25, 2011 tornado.

Avalon ISD’s Multipurpose Center sheltered almost 100 people during the April 25, 2011, tornado which struck the small town of Avalon, Texas. The tornado ripped off the roof of a neighboring house, badly damaged the old gym, and ran over the dome — everyone inside was safe.

Mike South

A few synthetic glass blocks were damaged by the tornado.

A few synthetic glass blocks in the entrance were damaged by flying debris and have already been repaired.

Mike South

April’s tornadoes, specifically the one that rumbled through Avalon, served as a reminder of how precious and dear our children, school and community are to all of us. While we feared and marveled at nature’s fury, we counted our blessings that no one individual was harmed.

Our community was quick to respond that very evening to the needs of the families affected. The Avalon Volunteer Fire Department and Emergency Response Team, along with the Avalon ISD administrators, teachers, staff and maintenance crew, the Red Cross and utility companies, were all crucial to the effective response that night.

The district school buildings themselves received minor damage but the lack of power that night and the amount of broken trees and large limbs that were around the elementary building warranted the need for school to be canceled the following day for safety reasons. The faculty and staff came together that next morning with rakes, chainsaws, gloves and work boots to clear out the old tall tree by the Pre-K building, collect shingles and nails around parking lots and the entire campus, and move or pick up other objects from the surrounding neighborhood that had landed in our vicinity.

Video taken from Italy, Texas, of the storm and funnel cloud forming over Avalon, Texas.

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A short, 11 second, video taken by someone in the dome as the tornado hit the football field and headed for town.

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Of course, our school did become the center of media that night as word spread of the tornado. Media trucks (channels 4, 5, 8, 11, 23, 33, WBAP, Univision, and Fox World News) either spent the night or were on campus early the next morning for interviews and footage. They represented our district and community most fairly and accurately when they spoke of a community coming together and one that cares for each other. Proudly, our multipurpose center, a Monolithic Dome which parents and taxpayers deemed important for our school activities and as a storm shelter, was highlighted for the protection it provided for 75 to 100 people that day.

The district sustained some minor water and high wind damage to shingles and trees. However, Griffith Gym suffered quite a bit more damage. Last week we had structural engineers assess the damage and to check and verify the integrity of the building. We have been assured that the building is structurally sound but the damage is extensive. Avalon ISD property insurance is through the Texas Association of School Boards and they are working on finalizing the final cost of the damages moving forward. We should be receiving a finalized list of costs soon so an informed decision can be made regarding the future of the structure.

The damaged roof of the old school gym.

The old school gym roof was badly damaged with multiple holes in the roof. Fortunately, the structure was inspected and declared structurally sound.

Mike South

In my 17 years here at Avalon ISD, I cannot recall such a time as the week we just experienced. I look back and think of what other damage could have been done to our school and community and am deeply thankful for what did not occur. But there are moments that will stay with me, and all of us at Avalon ISD, far longer as we go forward. Those included Superintendents from surrounding school districts who came out that night to see what they could do for us, calls, emails, and text messages from other district superintendents and their employees, as well as our regional service center in Richardson, the following day to check and see what we needed. Crews from Ferris and Italy ISD came with trailers and chainsaws; Milford ISD brought all of us breakfast and water. Parents and students came by or called or texted to see what they could do to help their school.

There is no price an adjuster can put on those acts of friendship and goodwill. Those acts are priceless!

David Del Bosque, EdD
Superintendent Avalon ISD

The old gym roof damage next to the new dome gym without damage.

The Monolithic Dome gymnasium behind the old school gym where some of the old roof was torn off. The dome survived with only tiny cosmetic damage and at no time were the people inside in danger from the tornado.

Mike South