One fifth-grade student who endured minor injuries in the incident said the crashing sounded like an explosion

By Benjamin VanHoose
January 15, 2020 11:53 AM

Young students in a physical education class narrowly avoided disaster when high winds caused their gymnasium’s roof to collapse.

Twenty-one students at Union Intermediate School in Clinton, North Carolina, were in the gym at the time of the incident, which was captured on the school’s surveillance cameras.

“Monday afternoon a microburst removed part of the roof (approximately 45’ X 75’) and part of the wall of the gym at Union Intermediate School,” Dr. Wendy Cabral, Sampson County Schools assistant superintendent for personnel services and communications, tells PEOPLE in a statement.

As seen in footage provided on Tuesday, the students quickly fled to the opposite end of the room as debris crashed down, along with part of the gym wall and a large ceiling exhaust fan.

“There was a class in the gym at the time and three students were taken to Sampson Regional Medical Center for evaluation,” Cabral continued. “All three were released.”

“A structural engineer evaluated the building Tuesday and other than the gym, the building is safe,” Cabral added. “Staff returned today. If clean-up is completed today, students will return tomorrow.”

After conducting a survey of the damage and radars, the National Weather Service further confirmed that a microburst near the school was responsible for the estimated 85-miles-per-hour winds, according to ABC affiliate WCTI.

One of the injured students described her experience, telling NBC affiliate WRAL that it sounded like an explosion.

“We were playing basketball, and it just sounded like something exploded in there,” the fifth-grade student told the outlet. “I just turned around and was looking at the stage, and it just collapsed. And then we started running, and something hit me from behind, and I fell down. And then the glass started breaking.”

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE’s free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories

The school’s principal, Dondi Hobbs, told the outlet that had the microburst happened a day later on Tuesday, it would have affected an assembly with more than 400 students.

“It was just ‘bam,’ Hobbs said. “We had no warning. Nobody received any alerts on the phones or anything before we were in action mode.”

According to ABC affiliate WTVD, counselors will be available to students to assist them in processing the incident when classes resume.

“What a blessing it is that only three students were injured and those three students are going to be okay,” Cabral told WTVD. “We can fix this building, but students are our priority, and we’re very blessed that they’re okay.”