Jackson, TN – Union University is blessed. Candice Ludlow visited Union University in Jackson, Tennessee as students and staff put the finishing touches on the 14 brand new residence halls. Some believe it's a miracle that students will begin this school year on campus.
Super Tuesday is a day that many Mid-Southerners will not forget. Dozens of tornadoes tore across several states, killing 57. One tornado tore a swath, snapping trees and anything in its path as it crossed Interstate 40 near Jackson, Tennessee. Union University, which lies just north of the interstate, took a direct hit, destroying the residence halls and damaging classrooms. No one died.
The word miracle echoed from students and staff at Union University, describing their experience in the face of the deadly tornadoes.
Amanda Banks crowded into a downstairs bathroom with her peers at Union University as the sirens sounded. "It was about 7:00," she said, "and we were hungry." So she decided to leave the shelter and get some food for her and the other students in the bathroom shelter. The television was on and the weatherman announced if you're any where near Union University take cover now.
Amanda ran back into the shelter, and as they closed the door, the tornado hit. It was 7:05 PM. As the pressure dropped, she said one students nose began to bleed and she felt the pressure in her ears. She believes it's a miracle that she heard the news to take shelter immediately. Otherwise, she would not be alive today. All of their furniture, and even the appliances were sucked out of their dorm. When they opened the bathroom door, their room was almost gone. They still had to get out over all the rubble.
"And that is just the grace of God there that that meteorologist would of mentioned Union University out of all places in this county. It's just the complete grace of God that I would hear that and get back in time," Amanda Banks said.
University president Dr. David Dockery thought they had been spared. He waited out the storm in his office, and watched the tornado bounce over the building. We had initially thought we had escaped, he said.
The Dean of Students, Dr. Kimberly Thornbury, arrived on campus just minutes after the first tornado hit. She describes girls running in flip flops, seeing the insides of her students dorm rooms, a guitar here, a car in another, a teddy bear.
Within two weeks, all wreckage was removed from campus, so they could begin construction. They had to build 14 new residence halls. Students were housed throughout Jackson, in people's homes, apartments and in a hotel converted into dorms.
Four competitive contractors from Jackson agreed to work together, sharing subcontractors to get the project done quickly. J.R. Banks of Brasfield Construction says it normally takes nine months to build just one residence hall. He arrived on campus to begin work on February 29th and said, I didn't think that was any way possible we'd be through with this on Sept 1st, but we committed to do our absolute best.
Not only did the contractors cooperate and work together to ensure the residence halls were constructed as quickly as possible, so did the city planning commission and city council.
To ensure the students sleep in peace and are protected, prior to the laying down the carpet, students wrote prayers for those who will inhabit the dorms into perpetuity.
Union University students resume classes today. Now that the construction is nearly complete, the students are back in their new dorm rooms and classes, happy to continue their education on campus - instead of throughout the community.