Florida school janitor hid in custodial closet as EF-2 tornado hit, destroyed middle school

Janitor says he’s not lucky, he’s blessed to be alive
Posted at 6:03 PM, Oct 21, 2019

POLK COUNTY, Fla. -- A school janitor hid inside a custodial closet as an EF-2 tornado hit Polk County, Florida, Friday night.

Kathleen Middle School is a historic building that’s nearly 100 years old, that sustained severe damage.

Twelve of the classrooms were destroyed from the tornado that had winds up to 120 miles per hour.

“That’s when we heard the train I guess, we heard that and the walls started heaving in and out in my custodial closet, I have a metal draw door, that goes up and down, it was bangin,’” said Rodney Jamerson.

Jamerson said he was scared while inside the closet, as he could hear the damage around him.

“When they shined a light on the roof, my heart just dropped, because to look at the severity of that and to be blessed and not to do like the Wizard of Oz, I’m good,” he said.

Jamerson, who is originally from New York, said this was the worst experience he’s had.

“We don’t do that,” he added, “New York, we don’t do tornadoes and hurricanes. We have blizzards and that’s good enough for me.”

As soon as the tornado passed over the school, Jamerson said he ran as fast as he could to his family who lives across the street.

Thankfully, his family was OK.

“People keep saying, ‘man you’re lucky.’ But no, I’m blessed,” said Jamerson.

Not far from the middle school, families lost everything.

Angela Kaufer watched as her mom’s home was torn down on Monday.


“I just wish It would have taken my home,” she said.

Kaufer said she fears she’ll forget the memories inside, “every memory I have is in this house.”

Thankfully her mother and her stepfather who were asleep inside the house were able to escape with just scratches.

Polk County sent out an alert on Monday that they have plans to clean up debris in the Kathleen area, northwest of Lakeland, until it’s finished.

“We are asking residents in the area to please move their debris to the roadside,” said Polk County Manager Bill Beasley. “If they can get that material to the road, we will pick it up.”

The county says most debris collection should occur within the next five days, but larger trees and items requiring specialized heavy equipment, could take longer.

This article was written by Nicole Grigg for WFTS .