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Usually the “Everyone Has A Story” series seen here on 105.7 News features one person.

But this latest installment will tell you about many who are credited with saving lives during a tornado that hit Pleasant Hill Elementary School in Cumberland County yesterday afternoon.

First, let’s set up the timeline leading to what happened.

Early yesterday morning, the National Weather Service issued a statement saying there was the possibility of strong to severe weather in a range from just east of Nashville to the North Carolina line. The most likely timing on the plateau and points east would be early afternoon to the evening hours.

They got that part right.

A tornado warning was issued for around the area of Tullahoma between 9 and 10 a.m. central time but the cell broke apart as it tracked northeast.

That would be the only tornado warning issued until 10 to 15 minutes after Pleasant Hill was hit by one just after 3 p.m. central.

The weather service immediately issued a tornado warning for northwest Cumberland County but a second cell developed and a funnel cloud made its way through the northern part of Crossville heading towards Morgan County. Several in the city saw the funnel and took pictures of it. A second warning was then issued for that particular cell.

Tornado warnings would also be issued for Fentress, Morgan and Scott counties.

No tornado watch was in effect at the time of all of these warnings were sent out.

By the time 5:30 p.m. central came, it was over and the sun came out.

So needless to say, Pleasant Hill had no warning at all from weather officials.

What Pleasant Hill Elementary School had was Student Resource Officer Anthony Justice.

He was in the school parking lot directing traffic and preparing for the remainder of the buses to pull out when he saw the tornado heading right towards him and the school.

“I saw a big black cloud coming towards me. It was spinning and then I heard it,” Justice said. “I yelled at students and teachers to get back in the building that there was a tornado coming.”

Justice also alerted parents in vehicles who were there to pick up students of the approaching threat.

It was the only warning the school had and Deputy Justice is being recognized as a hero today for saving numerous lives.

Cumberland County Sheriff Casey Cox issued the following statement after the tornado hit the school:

“Anthony and the Pleasant Hill school staff performed a fantastic job protecting the children. According to the school staff, Deputy Justices swift actions resulted in saving and protecting many of the students at the school as the tornado struck. He immediately notified other deputies and the E-911 center by radio of the tornado which resulted in the quick response of other first responders to the scene. I overheard parents and school staff numerous times commending Deputy Justice for his response. I am extremely proud of the quick actions and bravery Deputy Justice displayed during this critical situation. 

As I arrived on scene to assess the scene, I was impressed by the professionalism and actions of the school staff and first responders. During the chaos these professionals did a terrific job gaining control of the situation, calming the children, and attending to the needs of the children and parents.”

The second group of heroes in this situation is the students and staff of Pleasant Hill Elementary School. With only a minute or two at best to react, they all performed at their best facing one of weathers worst forces of nature. Three high school students at the school initially were reported missing. They were found minutes later and all students and staff were accounted for. This is why it is so important schools do and perform tornado drills each year. If you add the main factor of no warning given other that Deputy Justice acting quickly once he saw the tornado approaching, the student and staff response was incredible.

A third group of heroes from yesterday has to be the staff of the school bus garage and all school bus drivers who were not only serving Pleasant Hill but North Cumberland Elementary. North Cumberland was placed on lockdown when the funnel cloud was seen in the northern area of Crossville around I-40. The bus drivers received a radio transmission from the bus garage instructing them to immediately stop and hold their positions until the threat passed. The drivers, knowing what was going on, maintained their professionalism in keeping the students calm and safe on board and later got each one to their destinations safely.

The fourth group has to be the first responders, medics and emergency management agency personnel who responded to the school. Their fast actions made a tremendous impact on the individuals in the school and getting them all home safely. As Cumberland County Mayor Allen Foster said last night, the county has the best when it comes to all first responders. Mayor Foster added the county was blessed by the outcome. He is absolutely correct.

Had the tornado struck just 30 minutes before it did, this could have been a far different outcome.

A special thanks needs to go to the Cumberland County Road Department crews for their fast work in clearing roads after winds from the tornado sent trees down on them. Bud Tanner Road and Main Street in Pleasant Hill took the brunt of this. Within two hours of the tornado touchdown, the road involved were cleared.

One thing that has always remained the same and will continue to be is simply this…in the face of disaster or an unexpected event that involves many, this county rises quickly to help others. Many accounts of yesterday focused on the tornado and the damage it left but you have to look at the underlying events.

It is there that you find the true and inspirational stories that everyone has.

The tornado bearing down on Pleasant Hill and the school around 3:15 yesterday afternoon. 

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