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Students Return To Class In Storm-Ravaged Piner, Ky.


The small town of Piner, Kentucky was one of many badly hit by the devastating tornadoes that ripped through the Midwest and the South. At least four people in Piner were killed by the storms, but many residents of the town are trying to return to normal life today, and that includes going back to school. Teri Cox-Cruey is the superintendent of schools for Kenton County, which includes Piner. She joins us on the line now. Good morning.

TERI COX-CRUEY: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Let's now – so let me just start by saying our sympathies to all of you for the terrible damage done there. I mean we're seeing picture of collapsed homes, parts of buildings in trees, I mean, a cemetery gate blown down. Did the school in Piner actually escape the damage?

COX-CRUEY: The school did escape the damage. It was further south. And it did impact a lot of the children's homes, but the school was not damaged other than power being out for a period of time.

MONTAGNE: So are you expecting many students will come to school this morning?

COX-CRUEY: I do expect that we will have some students that will not be able to make it to school today, but I anticipate that we'll have a large amount that will be present at school.

MONTAGNE: Is that, do you think, because, really, they just want to get back to doing the things they know?

COX-CRUEY: I think that that's an appropriate way for a lot of people to cope after loss. And we will have crisis team members there, and also some extra hands from parent volunteers, just to be there to talk to kids, sit with them while they're having lunch, talk through the ordeal. That's the way - that's a healthy way for a lot of kids to deal with a loss like this. So we want to make sure that we are open and get them back in a routine if that's the best way for them to deal with that.

MONTAGNE: And the families who lost their homes, are they still there?

COX-CRUEY: Well, I was out to see some of the damage first-hand on Saturday, and some of the places are not able to be occupied. Some have been – really the remains are rubble. Others have lost so much of the structure and the roofing that that would not be able to be occupied as well.

So there are other parts, however, of the southern part of the county, where the storm did not impact, even some on the same street. What's been difficult for us to assess is which houses have impacted our students because the storm took out the mailboxes and the addresses. So we were able to get, from emergency management, the system – the streets that were impacted, but we feel that we'll learn more today when the students actually return to school about how much loss they really suffered, individually and as families.

MONTAGNE: Well, you spoke of the rest of the county. How extensive, overall in your county, was the damage?

COX-CRUEY: Well, Kenton County is a fairly large district that runs from north to south, and it was the far southern end, Piner Elementary is farthest elementary south that would contain the borderlines of the Kenton County School District in Kenton County.

However, the way the tornado went through there, it was like a strip. So even though they were on the same street, if they were on the northern end of the street or the far southern end of the street you'll see little impacts. But right down the center of some of the streets it took out all of the houses, or barns or structures.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us. We're speaking with Teri Cox-Cruey, the superintendent of schools for Kenton County, Kentucky. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.