‘It just sounded like something exploded’: School roof collapses in NC storm; 3 students injured

CLINTON, N.C. (WTVD/WRAL/CNN) - A North Carolina elementary school is closed for repairs after a microburst blew out a wall and part of the roof, injuring three students.

The National Weather Service confirmed that a microburst with winds up to 85 mph was to blame for the damage to Union Intermediate School in Clinton, N.C. (Source: WRAL/CNN)

As storms moved through the area, 21 students and a teacher at Union Intermediate School in Clinton, N.C., were in the gym Monday afternoon when suddenly, the wall came crashing down.

Surveillance video shows the children running the other way as bricks, wooden beams and other debris fly inside.

“The students were doing their gym activities, and all of a sudden, it’s just debris starts flowing in and you see the sky,” said Sampson County Schools spokesperson Wendy Cabral.

Cabral says the school’s roof came off over a stage area near the back of the gym. The National Weather Service confirmed Tuesday that a microburst with winds up to 85 mph was to blame for the damage.

Three fifth graders were taken to the hospital with minor injuries and released by Tuesday afternoon. They are all expected to be OK.

One of the students who was injured, Chloe Brewer says she was standing to the left of the gym when chaos erupted.

“It was our P.E. day. We were playing basketball, and it just sounded like something exploded in there,” she said. “I just turned around and was looking at the stage, and it just collapsed. Then, we started running. Something hit me from behind, and I fell down. Then, the glass started breaking.”

Principal Dondi Hobbs said the stage curtain was closed at the time and helped to serve as a buffer between the students and the debris.

"I am appreciative of God's blessings," she said. "He takes care of us and directs us all the time."

Administrators dismissed the students early on Monday. The school was closed Tuesday and Wednesday for cleanup and repairs. Engineers deemed the rest of the school safe, and students are expected to return Thursday. Officials say counselors will be on hand at that time to help students process what happened.

“What a blessing it is that only three students were injured and those three students are going to be OK,” Cabral said. “We can fix this building, but students are our priority. We’re very blessed that they’re OK.”

A microburst is a column of sinking air, sometimes called a downdraft, produced by thunderstorms. Sampson County was under a severe thunderstorm warning Monday from 2:12 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Hobbs says there were no warnings or weather alerts on staff phones before the burst struck. She says if it had happened Tuesday afternoon, the gym would have been packed with 450 students during an assembly.

Copyright 2020 WTVD, WRAL, Union Intermediate School, Sampson County Schools via CNN. All rights reserved.