I gritted my teeth when I read this comment and my body started to boil. I was on the Facebook group page titled “Pray for Union U,” which had been created in the aftermath of the Super Tuesday tornadoes and collected 3,000 members in its first day alone. I had been scanning through the group’s wall posts, which consisted of prayers and sympathies and offers to send people, food, anything to Union University from campuses all over the nation.
Then there was Mr. Arkansas’s comment, about how our lack of prayer resulted in an EF-4 tornado that left much of our campus damaged or destroyed.
Many other comments reminded him that, even though our 24 residential buildings were hit, all 1,200 students living in them made it through alive.
If that is not a miracle of God, then I don’t know what is.
When the tornado struck Union Feb. 5, I was at the Green House with my fellow WJCers watching the Super Tuesday results. The events of the tornado unrolled in about 20 minutes. In that time, my boyfriend and I had this text conversation:
7:41 p.m. Gabe: We’re on a tornado warning. :(
7:57 p.m. Me: Yeah my parents told me! (I had just gotten off the phone with my parents)
7:58 p.m. Gabe: Haha everybody’s freaking out.
7:58 p.m. Me: Haha oh those tornadoes....
8 p.m. Gabe: I’ll be disappointed if campus survives after all this.
8:01 p.m. Me: Is it raining?
8:03 p.m. Gabe: The tornado just hit our dorm.
8:04 p.m. Me: What??
8:05 p.m. Gabe: The tornado just freaking shattered our dorm.
8:05 p.m. Me: What? Like seriously? Like seriously seriously. Like damaged?
8:07 p.m. Gabe: You wouldn’t believe this. Crook is in ruins.
8:08 p.m. Me: What is the damage? You better not be lying to me. Did it hit other places in Jackson?
8:15 p.m. Gabe: I’m not kidding in the slightest. Crook is in pieces...I don’t know about anything else.
In West Tennessee, we get tornado warnings all the time. After our first major tornado struck in 1998, one we were not prepared for and did not televise warnings for, the local weatherman began issuing tornado warnings all the time.
Union was struck by a tornado in 2002, causing around 2 million
dollars in damage. Really, all it did to the campus then was knock out
every single window on campus and the cars in the parking lot.
But, since then, when a tornado warning or watch is issued, the three commons on campus—our campus has three major residence complexes; each building is two stories. Watters houses men, Hurt houses women and McAfee is co-ed—issues warnings to the dorm rooms and the RAs check on every room to make sure the residents living upstairs have moved to a downstairs room. The drill is for every student to be in a downstairs room in the bathroom.
In my two and a half years I’ve been at Union, we’ve had a tornado warning at least twice a semester. The one year I lived in an upstairs room, we moved to a downstairs room and watched a baseball game with the girls down there during a tornado warning. One of my roommates kept running back upstairs to check on the cookies she was baking. We just didn’t take them seriously.
I knew Jackson was under a tornado warning, but when Gabe told me
his dorm was in pieces, I had a hard time believing him. It had been a
few years since a tornado had left a lot of damage behind in Jackson,
and I had never stopped to think the place I had lived for two and a
half years before coming to D.C. could be ruined in less than 45
As I was trying to get in touch with him and with my family about
how they were doing, my phone started doing, which was the worst
timing. Luckily, I was able to consistently keep in touch with my
family and Union friends.
My house was not hit, but my other home was. 80% of Union is
destroyed or damaged. The dorm I was just living in less than two
months ago is severely damaged, but is still standing. Wingo was by far
hit the worst, with only about 1/4 of the building barely still
standing and staircases leading to nowhere. I don't recognize the
buildings anymore. When I saw the first video footage of the
destruction, I could not breathe. I can't believe a 45 second storm
could leave this much damage and displace this many students.
The real miracle is that everyone survived this huge near-death
experience—one student had a couch fall over him before the cement
building fell around him; two other students were sitting in a car when
the tornado hit and they watched the truck in front of them fly up in
the air and they walked away fine.
The tornado has been on my mind a lot lately and so have a lot of
what-ifs. What if I had still been at Union? What if I had lost
everything like hundreds of other students and friends? What if I had
been hurt? What if someone close to me had died? And many others...it's
so surreal to me to see these pictures on TV not as an outsider but as
a Union student, someone who knows the campus backwards and forwards.
When I see pictures, I sometimes feel like I'm looking at a movie set.
I can't believe the places I knew so well are ruined. You see
destruction like this all the time, but I've never seen destruction to
a place I've invested a lot of time in.
We were doing so well—our student population was increasing, a new dorm was set to be built and ready in the fall, so much more. Now, the school has $40 million dollars and more in damage and student's lives have been turned upside down.
As I've talked to Union friends, I've slowly found out more and
more updates. Rescue teams have begun obtaining belongings out of rooms
as the students are not allowed to enter them again. Gabe recently
obtained most of his possessions, and so did my roommates; K-Fab
(Kristen Fabrizio, a roommate) called me to tell me the suspenders I
had left in the room made it through (to which I said what
suspenders!??!), but the wall-size Kappa Delta banner that had been
passed down to me did not.
Then, I hear stories about students who lost everything. You can see it in the pictures. The dorms that were reduced to rubble saved nothing but the student's lives, which is the greatest miracle of all. God's hand was all over our students to allow every single one of them to live. I am extremely grateful for that.
I have had so many people tell me it is a blessing that I was not
there this semester. But, at the same time, I want to be there. I want
to see with my own two eyes all of this destruction and devastation. I
want to help the relief effort. I am itching to be there.
As hard as it has been for me to be in D.C. while the tornado and the aftermath unfolded in Jackson, I know it has been 20 times worse for Union students. A December graduate I did a story on said...
“The storm had passed and I began pulling debris out. People were
literally crawling out of their dorm rooms. Male students were helping
the firefighters move debris. A lot of guys from every walk of life
were helping get all of the students safe. It was very emotional at
Union. There were hugs, prayers and tears everywhere as students were
coming back to campus and roommates were seeing each other for the
first time since last night. There were tears of joy for surviving.”
~Josh Clarke, who I wrote a story on for Baptist Press.
As Union struggles to move forward—amazingly, none of the
construction for the new cafeteria and dorm complex was damaged—I know
this tornado has taken us many steps backwards. It’s heartbreaking to
see a place I called home destroyed like this. A place that I lived and
breathed in, with thousands of other students. A place that was
destroyed in less than a minute.
When I read some of the wall posts on the now two groups that have
been dedicated to praying for Union University, I am appalled that
anyone would write something along the lines of, “instead of praying
for the university shouldn't we be praying for the families of those
who lost their lives and their homes to the storm instead of those who
lost their dorm furniture?” It astounds me that people can be so
insensitive. We did not lose lives, which we are praising God about. We
are in awe of his work. We are also praying that for those who lost
loved ones and for those who lost everything they own and have to start
And we are thanking those who have reached out to us—the Jackson community, colleges all across the nation and so much more.
If anything was being shouted out during the tornado, I know it was prayers, because we are truly blessed to have all of our students alive. That is a miracle.