CAMDEN — As Johnny Embry pulled into the front parking lot of Camden Fairview High School early Friday morning, he first thought the school had dodged heavy damage in a strong overnight storm.
Then he drove around back.
Embry, director of maintenance and transportation for Camden Fairview, found there that at least two sections of the roof had been peeled up in the school itself, exposing classrooms and the gym to the elements. And a rear parking lot was littered with large pieces of debris from the school's athletic stadium, which had metal siding ripped off and a large hole blown through a training room wall.
"When I turned the corner and saw the full extent of the damage here behind me, it was really shocking," Embry said Friday morning while school custodians worked to collect debris in large piles behind him. "You kind of stood there for a minute just taking it all in. And this morning as the sun came up and we really saw the full extent, it really concerns me."
In addition to collecting the large amount of debris, workers were busy Friday morning at the school salvaging items from classrooms where the roof was turned up and boarding windows and doors that were blown off in various parts of the building.
School was canceled Friday and Embry said a determination would be made Friday afternoon or Saturday on whether class could be held Monday. An architect, a construction manager and an engineer were all due at the facility later Friday to "ascertain the safety of the school," Embry said.
He said he was awakened early Friday first by the storm and then, about half an hour after it passed, by the Camden Police Department, who advised him that the school had been hit. It's unclear yet whether it was a tornado or heavy straight-line winds that did the damage.
Looking back on Thursday, when most of Arkansas including Ouachita County was under a tornado watch, the timing of the damaging storm was fortunate, Embry said.
"God was really looking after us today because this could have been another serious incident," he said. "We were just very, very blessed that nothing bad did happen other than building damage."