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Union students recount stories of survival

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–Media outlets across the nation are carrying coverage of students’ reactions after surviving a tornado that struck the campus of Union University in Jackson, Tenn., Feb. 5, destroying dormitories and leaving students trapped inside the rubble.

Danny Song and Sarah Logan appeared on NBC’s “Today” show Feb. 7, telling of God’s provision in a situation that easily could have left them dead. Song said his life was saved when he fell to the ground and a couch blew up against him, protecting him from a concrete slab that fell on top of the couch. He was left pinned in a fetal position for two hours.

“I was joking with my friend that God put me in a place to pray,” said Song, who was treated at a hospital and showed no signs of injury despite losing feeling in his legs during the ordeal.

Song said on Today that Jackson is part of tornado alley and he figured this tornado would be like all the others that frequently pass through the region. But he knew something was different when two students ran into his dorm yelling, “We’ve got to take cover now!”

“We could see the funnel forming probably 25 feet from where we were standing,” Song, a junior at Union, said. “We didn’t have any time. We started running inside and then the door swung open. One of our guys ran back to close the door. I remember just turning around to watch him do that, and that’s when the windows just exploded. All the glass just shattered. It was like a movie.”

Logan was with several other students in her dorm, chatting as they waited for the severe weather to pass. Suddenly things got more serious.

“I went up to the window and I was up against the window, and I said, ‘Oh, my goodness, I think the wind is going to knock that fence over,'” Logan said on Today. “As soon as I said that, we felt this horrible pressure in our ears, and the power went out, and somebody just screamed, ‘Go for the bathroom! Go for the bathroom!’

“We all ran toward the bathroom,” she said. “None of us really made it, but we made it into this kind of cove area. I only made it as far as the closest doorway. I was holding on to the door frame. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, my goodness, this is going to suck me out.'”

The women pleaded with God to protect them.

“We were just crying out. All of us were praying,” Logan said. “After the tornado hit, we all prayed together because we didn’t know if another tornado was going to hit. We were reciting Scripture.”

Erica Davis, 18, was watching television in her dorm room when the storm sirens sounded, according to The Gleaner newspaper in Evansville, Ind., just across the river from her hometown of Henderson, Ky.

“The power went off,” she said. “My ears started popping really, really bad. The pressure was amazingly high. There was a concrete wall behind us, and it sounded like things were pounding against the wall. It’s probably the most scared I’ve ever been in my entire life.

“When we heard things hitting the wall, we all hit the floor,” Davis said. “We were praying. My roommate started praying out loud.”

Ashley Johnson, 20, was in her dorm room and sought refuge in a bathroom downstairs when she learned severe weather was approaching. When nothing happened right away, Johnson said she and a few other girls decided to check outside.

“We saw black and we knew that the tornado was right above us,” Johnson, also from Henderson, told The Gleaner. Within seconds of getting back inside the bathroom, “the pressure started in my ears. You felt it in the room.” The pressure, she said, “went through your whole body.”

Johnson said in the aftermath of the storm cars were piled up and students were stepping over buildings that had been reduced to rubble.

“I was freaking out,” she said. “… There was insulation in trees. When I saw the buildings collapsed, if it wasn’t for the adrenaline, I would’ve passed out. I just knew someone had died. I was carrying a couch cushion in one hand, I don’t know why, and my psychology book in the other. I had the cushion in the bathroom with me because I thought the building was going to come down.”

The world outside her dorm was black except for the lights from ambulances, fire trucks and police cars, Johnson told The Gleaner.

“There were firefighters everywhere,” she said. “There was a random fountain shooting out of the grass, so I think a water line busted.”

Davis said on Wednesday that students were still in a state of shock.

“Everybody is still trying to find everyone they know,” she said. “When you see someone, you feel safer. And everyone is wondering how we’re going to go back to class on Feb. 18.”

Union’s president, David S. Dockery, has said classes will not resume at least until Feb. 18, and school officials are working on a plan. Classes could be held in local churches and other facilities so that students’ educations won’t suffer, The Gleaner reported.

Heath Farmer, associate minister of music and youth at First Baptist Church in Henderson, traveled to the campus the day after the tornado to help his friend bring a daughter home.

“It doesn’t look like a campus anymore,” Farmer, a graduate of Union, told the newspaper. “It’s devastating, and the pictures don’t do it justice. When you drive past it on the bypass, you just see piles of wood. It went right through the heart of the campus. But the beautiful thing is that no one was killed and everyone was accounted for. It’s the mercy of God.”

David Clay, a freshman at Union, told The News Courier in his hometown of Athens, Ga., he was watching The Weather Channel Tuesday night when a resident assistant told students to take cover. He joined five other students in a bathroom.

“You always hear that people say it sounds like a train,” Clay told the newspaper, “but it was deathly quiet and you could feel the atmospheric pressure change. One of the guys with us said his ears popped.

“When we headed for the bathroom, we could hear the hail hitting the windows. Then there was a tremendous crash,” Clay added. “I guess it was the loudest crash I had ever heard in my life. It was over in two seconds, but we stayed in the bathroom for another three minutes.”

Heather Martin, 21, told The Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis that she was one of the six women pulled from the debris by rescue workers. The women were pinned together in a bathtub, trying to stay calm.

“I had to concentrate on breathing. Screaming didn’t help that at all,” said Martin, who sustained a right leg injury. “We just tried to calm each other down.”

Carrie Moore told the Winston-Salem Journal in North Carolina that as she walked on campus the day after the tornado, students openly displayed their emotions.

“Some of my friends were in some of the buildings that got hit,” Moore said. “I was walking around campus today and just seeing faces and that was good, to just make sure everything was OK. A lot of the girls were pretty shaken up. … Some people had, like, panic attacks.”

In all, 51 students were taken to the hospital and nine had serious injuries, though none was life-threatening. Dockery said 40 percent of Union’s student housing buildings were destroyed and another 40 percent were heavily damaged, The Commercial Appeal reported. At least 17 buildings were damaged, including the library where books were destroyed. Of about 1,200 student cars on campus, officials estimated that fewer than 100 escaped damage.
Complied by Baptist Press staff writer Erin Roach with reporting by Mark Kelly, assistant editor of Baptist Press.

Watch a video of Union University student Danny Song tell of surviving the tornado that struck the Tennessee campus.

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