JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen toured the tornado-ravaged Union University campus Feb. 7, as the long process of cleaning up debris and rebuilding the campus begins.
“We’re going to be here,” Chertoff said, “to stand shoulder to shoulder with the governor and help you get cleaned up and get back to school…. We’re really glad you’re alive and we’re looking forward to coming back to the campus when it is spic and span and rebuilt.”
Chertoff took note of the university’s preparedness plans, stating, “It’s impressive the fact that the administration of this school and the students were able to get prepared. They really saved a lot of lives.” Buildings, he said, can be replaced; “we can’t replace lost lives.
Tennessee National Guard troops patrolled the Jackson campus the night of Feb. 6 to secure student residences and academic buildings. When the sun came up Thursday morning, they turned their attention to helping students recover their belongings from housing units that weren’t totally destroyed.
“Tennessee Guard members will be working with Union security to retrieve undamaged personal goods from various residence life rooms,” said Union President David Dockery. “Our efforts also will focus on helping students remove their vehicles from the campus.”
The cleanup operation will begin in earnest on Friday, Dockery said.
Bredeson and Chertoff visited the campus as part of a swing through the region to assess damage caused by dozens of tornadoes that raked Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama Feb. 5, killing at least 54 people and injuring hundreds.
President George Bush is scheduled to visit the area on Friday.
Initial estimates place the damage to the university at $40 million or more, but the loss goes beyond just destroyed and battered buildings, with Dockery noting that “the damage to student possessions and belongings has been equally severe.”
Morris H. Chapman, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, called on Southern Baptists to step up and help the Union family rebuild their campus and lives.
“The costs of repair will be steep and the adjustments many,” Chapman told Baptist Press. “I ask Southern Baptists everywhere to lift up this sister institution in prayerful concern and support.”
With damage to the campus so severe, Chapman marveled there was no loss of life.
“In a night marked by danger and death across the region, the Lord supernaturally overshadowed His children at Union University,” he said. “We rejoice that no one there sustained life-threatening injuries. Buildings can be repaired or rebuilt, automobiles can be replaced, scattered notes and books can be recovered, but members of the family are irreplaceable.”
Chapman also praised Dockery as an “extraordinary leader” and asked Southern Baptists to pray Dockery would be strengthened for the enormous rebuilding task ahead.
Union has established a relief fund for people wanting to help with the recovery. Donations can be sent to “Union University Disaster Relief Fund” at 1050 Union University Drive, Jackson, TN 38305. The university also is suggesting that those who want to help students consider providing gift cards that can be used in stores like Wal-Mart, Target, Lowe’s or Home Depot.
As of Feb. 6, Union staff had recorded 86 storm-related injuries, 51 hospitalizations, and seven people admitted to intensive care at a local hospital, said Greg Thornbury, dean of Union’s School of Christian Studies. By day’s end, three remained in the hospital.
The school has enough volunteers already scheduled to help with the campus cleanup efforts Friday and Saturday, according to the university’s www.uuemergency.com website. Anyone interested in volunteering to help next week may call (731)661-5160. Donations of items like gloves, trash bags, rakes, shovels and wheelbarrows also would help with recovery efforts.
Families in Jackson responded quickly to give students a place to stay the night of the disaster, but there also is a need for longer-term housing, said Cam Tracy, an instructor at the school.
“We appreciate so much the many kind offers for short-term shelter we’ve received for students who were misplaced by Tuesday night’s tornado,” Tracy said. “Even Tuesday night, every student was housed in someone’s home.
“We will have a need, however, for more long-term housing as we look toward completing the spring semester,” Tracy added. “Eighty percent of Union’s student housing was either destroyed or severely damaged, and with students coming from 45 states and 36 nations, housing them once we resume classes will be a real need.”
People willing to help house students for the remainder of the semester, can call 731-499-5109, Tracy said.
In addition to updates posted on the uuemergency.com site, Dockery is posting a daily news update at the university’s website, www.uu.edu. Baptist Press also is hosting a blog of news and updates from Union, at www.bpnews.net/blog.
Along with tangible expressions of support, Chapman urged Southern Baptists to make the Union University community a priority in prayer.
“I am so grateful to the Lord for His unfailing watchcare and protection over the entire Union family,” Chapman said. “I know Southern Baptists across the nation join the officers, staff, members of the Executive Committee, and me in pledging our continuing prayers for the recovery to follow.”
In a show of solidarity with the Union family, radio station KCBI in Dallas scheduled a three-hour telethon for Friday. The radio station is affiliated with Criswell College in Dallas. Students and faculty members at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, “passed the hat” during their Feb. 6 chapel service. The hat, however, in true Texas style, was a cowboy boot, and seminary officials said a check for $5,000 would be personally delivered by three seminary representatives dispatched to help with cleanup at Union.
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Mark Kelly and editor Art Toalston, with reporting by Brittany Howerton, a Union University public relations major.