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Community spirit, optimism lift Union after the storms

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–Union University President David Dockery stood Nov. 12 in front of Hurt Residence Complex — perhaps the one building most devastated by high winds early Nov. 10.

The stoic Dockery stood with one had under his jaw. He was smiling.

“This is when you see Union at its best,” he said quietly. “The sense of community is incredible. We have so much to be thankful for. We had about 700 people on campus. But there was no loss of life — not even a scratch.”

Union students watched as high winds spewed tree limbs and chunks of roofing through the air, smashing hundreds of car windows. Students huddled in their dorms waiting for the droning weather sirens to cease.

After two days of wayward tornadoes had wreaked havoc across West Tennessee, the sirens stopped and the wind subsided. Student housing took the hardest hit, but classrooms were virtually untouched, said Union spokeswoman Sara Horn.

“I took my Bible and placed it in a plastic bag,” said Josh Willhite, a Union freshman. “I got lucky. And to wake up and see these people working — it lets me know that this community doesn’t run in the face of danger. It motivates you.”

By 9 a.m. Nov. 11, blue skies mixed with a hopeful optimism covered the campus as about 300 students, faculty and volunteers rallied to clean up fallen trees, broken glass and other debris strewn about the campus after the storms.

Classes were set to resume Nov. 12, and students won’t lose much by having Nov. 11 off, Dockery said.

Sophomore Emily Brown and junior Amanda Scott cleaned up debris near a huge oak tree that had snapped at its base and crashed onto a concrete picnic area.

“The wind was bad, and it scared everybody,” Brown said. “But it was Saturday that four of my car windows were blown out.”

Scott agreed that Nov. 9 was the worst of the two nights of terror. Her car windows didn’t fare well, either, but the bright sunshine and bustle of activity on campus were reassuring.

“I think the staff at Union is definitely caring and helpful,” she said. “I can’t believe how the community has jumped in and helped.”

Like a swarm of bees, the community came to the rescue. Dement Construction and Watson Trucking donated dump trucks and other heavy machinery, and workers to help clear debris. Chick-Fil-A and Jason’s Deli donated boxed lunches for volunteers.

United Way sent volunteers, and Lowe’s and The Home Depot donated mops, rakes, shovels, brooms and gloves. Insurance companies also were on campus Nov. 11 to assist students with making claims for automobile damages.

“When I look out here, I see hope,” said Cynthia Jayne, director of Union’s Institute for International Studies. “It’s important to remember the important things in life — life itself,” she added while sweeping up broken glass.

Dockery estimated the damage at about $1 million. The school will not receive state or federal disaster aid and will have to rely on school funds and contributions to rebuild. About 500 cars were hit by tree limbs, and many students used Union’s shuttle buses and vans on Nov. 11 to get around.

Jimmy Davis, Union’s assistant provost, said that such overwhelming community support will help the school get back on track quickly. This is the first time in Union’s history that the school had to be shut down because of damage from nearby tornadoes, he said.

“All the volunteers have been good friends of Union for a long time,” he said. “It makes our step a little lighter.”
Reprinted by permission of The Jackson Sun. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at https://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: VOLUNTEER PROF and HAULING IT AWAY.

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  • Gary Gray