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"Battlefield Promotion" -- From Principal to Shelter Supervisor

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TARBORO — Last month, Tarboro High School was transformed into a shelter when Hurricane Floyd hit and put large parts of the town under water.

But most people probably don't know how difficult the situation was in the first 48 hours.

One principal was asked to open the doors of his school but then he took on a responsibility beyond his job description.

Tarboro High School principal Dennis Hart relishes being back at his normal school tasks. His duties seem simple after managing an impromptu emergency shelter as Hurricane Floyd hit.

Hart says he considered the people sent to his school to be his.

At daybreak, the city of Tarboro resembled an island. For the next two days, Hart and his school team served meals to 2800 flood victims, until school pantries were empty.

"On Sunday after we served breakfast, I didn't know where our next meal was coming from," Hart recalled.

The Red Cross couldn't get through the flood waters to reach them. Hart didn't know what more a school teacher could do.

"They had been through enough. I had seen people come off helicopters with only the clothes on their back," he remembered. "They didn't know where the rest of their family was. They didn't need to worry about where their next meal was coming from."

Picking up his cell phone, Hart called in the troops, literally.

After relaying the circumstances, the Gov. Jim Hunt, Sen. Jesse Helms and Gen. Hugh Shelton of the Joint Chiefs of Staff took action.

"I saw four great big Chinooks (helicopters) coming in with water hanging down in baskets and we had over 3,000 MRE's (Meals Ready to Eat) that were on there and that was a wonderful sight. It was like, 'Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you!'"

For nearly a month, the high school and the Red Cross provided a refuge for Edgecombe County flood victims.

"This is something you never, ever expect to do," Hart said. "You always see it on TV. It's happening to someone else. There are a lot of lessons learned."

Lessons they don't teach in school.

CP&Lrewired a nearby street and returned power to the high school before nightfall that first Friday.

The Red Cross arrived shortly after the nearly 3,000 flood victims finished the rations delivered by the military.

Hart says the Tarboro High Shelter ran smoothly after that.