JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–Recovering from the tornado that ravaged Union University’s campus Feb. 5 will require people to “roll up their sleeves” in a long-term effort, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen said Feb. 7 during a visit to the west Tennessee campus.
Bredesen and U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff toured the university to get a firsthand perspective on the devastation and talk about how the government can help with the recovery.
Not only did the tornado ravage many of the buildings on campus, but it also took most of the students’ personal belongings, Bredeson noted. Helping members of the university community rebuild their lives, he said, will require hard work that lasts long after the media spotlight has moved on to other matters.
“The next week or two is when we really get in and help people get their lives together,” Bredesen said. “After the media has gone home, there are going to be a lot of families in Tennessee and a lot of places that are going to need help over a period of months. We ask people in Tennessee to show the kind of neighborliness and compassion that I think we’re known for.
“When it gets out of the newspaper headlines and off the evening news is not when this needs to stop. It needs to keep going for months to help these people get their lives together.”
Bredesen said he finds hope for recovery in how well Tennessee’s communities come together in crisis.
“It always strikes me just how many people in our state — and I’m in a room full of them — who just roll up their sleeves and do what it takes to be a community and reach out to people,” Bredesen said.
An EF-4 tornado with winds in excess of 200 mph blasted the campus about 7 p.m. Feb. 5, destroying or severely damaging 80 percent of student housing and causing significant damage to all but one other building on campus. Nearly 1,200 students were on campus the night of the storm.
Chertoff said he was staggered by the degree of destruction at Union and was thankful there was no loss of life.
“It reminds you of the force of nature and that there are some things you can’t stop,” he said. “But you can prepare for them and make the damage less worse than it might have been otherwise.
“You can’t rebuild lost lives, so the number one priority is making sure everyone is safe,” Chertoff said. “The fact that you all did what you had to do is a great credit to you as a school and administration.”
Union President David S. Dockery, in his daily progress report posted on the university’s www.uu.edu website Feb. 8, said he was thankful for the expression of support represented by Bredesen’s and Chertoff’s visit.
“We were pleased to welcome Gov. Bredesen, as well as the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Director of FEMA, to campus on Thursday,” Dockery said. “They represent people from across the nation who are offering their prayers, their encouragement and their support for us during this time. We give thanks for each one of them…. We are deeply moved by this outpouring of support.”
During the officials’ campus tour, Dockery outlined Union’s five-phase plan for revitalizing the campus and student body: campus assessment, students’ return to homes, damage cleanup, resumption of classes and rebuilding the campus.
Dockery also expressed optimism about the prospect for recovery.
“We have a plan and if we can carry it out, which I think we can, we’re going to be OK,” Dockery said. “We’ve got some tough days ahead of us. I’m not trying to say it’ll be easy, but if everyone will rally together and follow the plan I think we can do it.”
With an initial damage estimate of at least $40 million on Union’s campus, Chertoff said FEMA is anxious to receive a report from Bredesen on what the needs are in Jackson and other places in Tennessee ravaged by the storms. Then the federal government will be able to do a more “detailed assessment” of what can be done to help, Chertoff said.
“We’re going to be here to stand shoulder to shoulder with the governor and help you get cleaned up and get back to school,” Chertoff said.
Brittany Howerton is a senior public relations major at Union University.