No students endangered by gas blast
Although several schools are near the site of the massive gas explosion Tuesday in Sissonville, no students were ever in harm's way.
Four public schools are relatively close to the blast site, including Flinn Elementary School and Sissonville Elementary, Middle and High schools. Students were originally told to shelter in place, but that order was soon lifted, said Bev Jarrett, director of safety for Kanawha County Schools.
"Very quickly, we realized there wasn't a chemical emergency, so the schools were informed to keep the kids there but not to shelter-in-place with them," Jarrett said.
That didn't mean parents weren't worried.
Crystal Smith is the mother of two Sissonville High students. She said she was carrying a box up the stairs of the family's new home on Derricks Creek Road when the explosion happened.
"The whole house started shaking," said Jarrett, adding that she lives across the street from the Pocatalico park and ride lot. "I could see the flames from my home."
She said she raced downstairs "to see if my husband had done anything" and then quickly sent a text message to her son and daughter. She said after a few minutes her daughter responded. She couldn't talk, but they were safe.
About 10 minutes later, Smith received an automated phone message from Kanawha County Schools that gave more details. She thought her children were probably safer at school than home and had full faith in Ron Reedy, the school's principal. But she was still frightened.
"It scared me to death; I'll be honest," Smith said, describing the smoke and flames she could see from her home.
Within minutes of the blast, parents started calling Sissonville High School, Reedy said. He called Superintendent Ron Duerring, who eventually called back to say he should keep all the students on site. Although students were asked to sit in the school's gymnasium for about 20 minutes, Reedy said he was later told the order was made in error.
For the most part, students remained calm during the event, he said. However, some received false information from outside the school. One student received a text message that said a nearby nursing home was destroyed. She has a grandmother who lives in the home and she was upset, Reedy said.
"Texting is the bane of school administrators' existence," he said.
The high school was also used as a mobile command center for several law enforcement agencies, Reedy said.
A little before 4 p.m., all high school students who walked to school or could access Martins Branch Road with their cars could go home, Reedy said.
Shortly thereafter, buses from the Tuppers Creek area bus garage were able to pick up some students who live south of W.Va. 21, said Jarrett, the county safety director.
About 5:30 p.m., more buses came for the students from Sissonville Middle who lived south of W.Va. 21, she said. Road closures forced bus drivers to take the long way around to get students who live north of the road home.
About 150 students were taken by bus around the site via the Elkview area or picked up by parents. Others were picked up by their parents, Jarrett said.
By 6:30 p.m., no more students remained at the schools, she said.
There were 440 students who did not walk or drive themselves home, Jarrett said. The school system worked to provide them food: Reedy said there were snacks and activities available at his school.
The combined enrollments of the four schools is a little more than 2,100, according to state records.
Sissonville Elementary School lost power and gas service, Jarrett said. Late Tuesday, officials were trying to determine if the school would open today.
Jarrett coordinated the response from the Metro 911 Center in Charleston. She said it made it easier to get information to those affected faster.