Deadly storms that ripped through Tennessee this weekend caused substantial damage to the Tennessee Baptist Convention's Union University in Jackson. There were no campus deaths or serious injuries, but there have been at least 35 reported deaths in nine states after this weekend's devastating string of tornadoes.
Sara Horn, Union's director of news and media relations, told Christianity Today that while the National Weather Service has not officially identified the severe storm that hit Union early Sunday morning as a tornado, several students reported seeing one over the school.
The campus's power went out at 12:05 a.m. as tornado sirens sounded. The less than 700 of the school's 1,700 residential students staying on campus over the weekend gathered in bathrooms and hallways. No students reportedly suffered injuries worse than minor scratches.
"What we can determine from varying reports is that the tornado formed above Union's campus about 30 feet off the ground between our two main residence complexes," said Horn. "We have no reports that it touched down anywhere, but the pressure was so great when it formed that it blew out all the glass from cars in the adjacent parking lot."
Windows were smashed out of buildings and over 500 student automobiles parked on campus. Hammons Hall, a building that houses the bookstore and administrative offices, sustained heavy wind damage. Most of the serious damage on campus, however, was to student residences. Horn told CT that insurance assessors on campus yesterday unofficially estimated the campus had hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.
The roofs of four married-student apartment buildings were blown off. A second storm on Sunday night caused rain damage to exposed apartments. In the commons area of another dormitory, a huge wall of windows was entirely blown in.
Blythe, a female-student dorm, had to be evacuated because of structural damage. Horn said that 45 students were relocated to a hotel. The university is now evaluating how many students can return to the dorm and when. A nearby apartment complex has offered rent-free apartments to students in the buildings with destroyed roofs.
Phones and electricity were down for 18 hours. Horn said most contact with parents and family was impossible for students until computer students set up generators to get word out through the Union University website that no one was hurt. Classes were cancelled Monday as teams of faculty, staff, and students focused on cleanup. Classes resumed today.
Horn told CT that the campus community has responded quickly and with faith in the face of the crisis. She spoke with one student yesterday who was outside when the winds began to reach dangerous levels. When he ran back to his apartment, he found 20 students crowded in the bathroom, on their knees, and praying.
"Just like the September 11 attacks last year, everybody just came together, got on their knees before God and thanked him," Horn said. "Just that no one was hurt, I think, says a lot to the students that God was watching over us and we have a lot to be thankful for."
Todd Hertz is assistant online editor for Christianity Today.
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