Tennessee College Marks Tornado Anniversary With Thanksgiving

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Last February, a string of tornadoes ripped through the southeast United States and the Ohio Valley, unusually strong, out-of-season storms which left death and destruction in their wake. Known as the “Super Tuesday” outbreak as it occurred on the same day that 24 states were holding their primary presidential election, the storms killed at least 76 people with total damages exceeding one billion dollars.

87 confirmed reports of tornadoes were recorded during that outbreak, including five EF4 tornadoes, which is one notch below the most destructive level. In the evening hours of February 5th, an EF4 tornado made its way through Jackson, Tennessee which is the home of Union University. That school suffered extensive damage, but miraculously not lives were lost that night.

According to the university, the tornado caused about $40 million in damage to the Union campus, wiping out 70 percent of student housing and badly damaging six other buildings. Fifty-one students were hospitalized.

Union University President David S. Dockery was among those who spent the wee hours of the following morning sifting through the wreckage. Then, as now, he recognizes the presence of God during the storm, crediting Him with preserving the lives of students and faculty.

“As I looked at the rubble late Tuesday night, and especially when the sun came up on Wednesday morning, I said, ‘There’s no way we didn’t have 200 people die.’ I’m convinced – nobody will every convince me otherwise – that God’s angels were unleashed to come as ministering spirits to His people that night and to protect those students in the most precarious of situations,” the Union president said. “I’m confident that’s what happened.”

Though he felt the Lord’s protection, Dockery thought that not only the Spring semester was over, but that Union would not be able to recover.

“That was my worst fear – that the devastation was such that we may not be able to recover, at least in a timely fashion,” he said. “That was always my prayer, that God would somehow give us wisdom to figure out how to restart the semester. We knew we had to save the semester for the seniors, and then for others as well.”

Two weeks later, classes resumed and students were able to finish up the semester, allowing seniors to graduate as well. But, it was the outpouring of volunteers and donors which helped put Union back on its feet, involving 5000 volunteers and more than 8000 donors from around the world.

An aggressive rebuilding plan pulled the completion date of repairing or replacing fourteen buildings forward, allowing each building to be used for the first day of classes on September 4th. In addition, enrollment was up and applications for the Fall 2009 semester are also running strong.

“I live with an awareness of God’s presence, his providence, his abilities to preserve life and to provide for us, in ways that I’ve never experienced before,” Dockery said. “When you look and see how close we came to total disaster, and at the same time how we were spared from that, you just have to cry out, ‘Thanks be to God.'”

Union will mark the one-year anniversary of the tornado with a thanksgiving dinner and service Feb. 5 at the Carl Perkins Civic Center in Jackson.

“Remembering Feb. 5: An Evening of Thanksgiving” will feature a 250-voice community choir, plus testimonies from students and others whose lives were changed by the tornado. The service will also include a time of recognition for the “dedicated efforts of first responders, community and church leaders, contractors, construction workers and all who went above and beyond the call of duty to help rebuild and restore Union University,” Dockery said.

The banquet will begin at 6 p.m. with the program starting at 6:45 p.m.

Source: Union University


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