(SELMA, Ala.) — Amanda McCloud was working in a Selma, Alabama, day care changing a toddler’s diapers when she heard the tornado sirens begin to wail.
“Most of the time, nothing ever happened,” she told ABC News about the tornado sirens she’s grown used to hearing, but she said it was different last Thursday.
There have been at least nine deaths as a result of a tornado that struck the South last week, according to authorities.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey declared a state of emergency on Thursday for Autauga, Chambers, Coosa, Dallas, Elmore and Tallapoosa counties, tweeting that those counties “were in the path of Mother Nature’s wrath.”
McCloud was working at the Crosspoint Christian Church’s child care and preschool in Selma, entrusted with caring for about six children that ranged in age from 7 weeks to 4 months old. Sixty children attended the preschool and nursery, with students as old as 4 years old, she said.
McCloud said she and her coworker tried to move the toddlers to a safer location within the day care once the sirens began, searching for a windowless room to shelter in place. She found all four bathrooms filled with children and staff, so McCloud said she decided to shelter with the children in her supervisor’s office.
With the power out, McCloud said she leaned over to protect a 7-week-old infant just as the worst of the storm set in.
“And then the roof just fell, like tiles and the ceiling tiles, you know, everything on top of us,” she said. “So, like it was pouring down rain on the kids.”
McCloud said she began yelling for help as the roof collapsed and exposed the children to the wind and rain.
“I was just like, ‘our roof is off, our roof is off.’ I was just screaming for help because I was hoping the bathroom people would come help us, you know, get the kids out,” she said. “But they were all probably screaming too.”
Once the fear subsided, she said she needed to get the children to another place to shelter.
“It was just pouring down rain…,” she said. “And I was like, ‘oh my god, yeah, we gotta get out of here."”
As she tried to move the kids to a safer location, McCloud said she was surprised to find a 4-month-old child unscathed under the rubble.
“She was up under all of the ceiling tiles. And she just had a little [pacifier] in her mouth, not crying or anything,” McCloud said.
McCloud said she then tried to move the children to a bathroom, but they made a startling discovery. There was a smell of gas in the crowded bathroom where other children were hiding.
“People were coming just saying, ‘we smell gas, we smell gas!"” she said. “And I was like, ‘Yeah, me too,’ because we gotta get out of the building.”
The roughly 60 children and staff of the day care then moved to a neighboring church, where parents picked up their children.
McCloud said other than some minor injuries, the children were unscathed, which she attributed to the attentiveness and maturity of the children.
“My kids really listened really good that day. It wasn’t hard moving them. They really did great,” she said.
Throughout the incident, McCloud said she worried about her daughter, a 15-year-old at a nearby high school.
“I really wanted to run down there and check on her,” she said. “But you know, I couldn’t leave my kids.”
McCloud has a simple response when asked how she handled the stress of the storm and the pressure of being responsible for other people’s children.
“I didn’t think about … what to do,” she said. “I just did it.”
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