Union clean-up to start Feb. 7

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)--Union University will launch a major clean-up effort Feb. 7 after taking a day to evaluate damage inflicted on the campus by a tornado that struck Jackson, Tenn., early the evening of Feb. 5.

"Today is a day of assessment," said Union President David S. Dockery in an open letter Feb. 6. "Initial efforts to help students return to their homes or to a safe place also have started today and will continue throughout the week. A major clean-up project will start on Thursday."

University officials also are at work drafting an "intermediate strategy" to help get classes underway again on Feb. 18, Dockery said, despite the fact that almost every building on campus sustained significant damage during the storm.

Fifty-one students were treated for injuries and nine were kept overnight in a local hospital, university spokesman Tim Ellsworth said. Seventeen buildings received some kind of damage, and the roof was torn off a main academic building. Student residences were almost completely destroyed. Thirteen students trapped in the rubble were free after a five-hour emergency effort.

"By God's providence, no lives were lost," Dockery said. As many as 3,300 students had been on campus earlier in the day before classes dismissed.

Dockery recalled a 2002 tornado that struck the campus, causing $2.6 million in damage, and said this one was "15 times worse than that." The process of rebuilding will be "lengthy and extensive," he said.

The president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention called on Southern Baptists in that state and across the nation to consider how they can help the Union University community tackle the challenge of rebuilding.

"I want to express our deepest sympathy for those who have lost so much across our whole state, our Baptist churches and one of our two colleges, Union University," said Tom McCoy, pastor of Thompson Station Baptist Church south of Nashville. "Our prayers go out to all the students, faculty and Dr. Dockery. We are thankful God spared the lives of the school family in the midst of terrible devastation.

"We know the storms destroyed much of the personal possessions of many, and I encourage all our Baptist brothers and sisters across our state and nation to support those who have experienced loss," McCoy added. "I also ask you to pray to see if the Lord would lay it on your heart to help Union financially in its rebuilding effort.

"The challenge is great, but we trust God will work through you and me to complete the task," he said. "Contact the Tennessee Baptist Convention, and we will help you get your contribution to Union University."

Faculty and staff met students at a shopping center across from the campus to verify that everyone was safe and accounted for, Union professor Michael Chute told Baptist Press. Local churches mobilized buses to take students to host homes.

Students living in the McAfee campus housing complex -- the one least damaged in the storm -- were allowed back into their rooms Wednesday afternoon to retrieve their belongings.

The university's main website, uu.edu, was back in service less than 18 hours after the disaster took it offline. A new site, uuemergency.com, was established to communicate with members of the university community. Baptist Press also is hosting a blog of news and updates from Union, at www.bpnews.net/blog.

Dockery expressed heartfelt gratitude for the support and prayers the school has received in the storm's aftermath.

"I want to offer highest commendations for our students and the Student Life Team, who have handled this challenge in amazing ways," he said in his letter. "We want to thank everyone who has given help, provided service and offered ongoing prayer on behalf of Union University.

"We thank God for His providential care," Dockery added. "With the help of God, we will move forward together."


Mark Kelly is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

To watch a video of Union University President David S. Dockery at a Feb. 6 news conference after the preceding evening’s devastating tornado, click PLAY below.

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