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One year after tornado destruction, Union University sees recovery


JACKSON, Tenn. (BP) — In the early morning hours of Feb. 6, 2008, Union University President David S. Dockery drifted through the wreckage. Only hours before, an EF-4 tornado had ripped its way through the campus, leaving injured students and piles of rubble in its wake.

The tornado caused about $40 million in damage to the Baptist–affiliated university in Jackson, Tenn., wiping out 70 percent of student housing and badly damaging six other buildings. Fifty-one students were hospitalized that night, but no lives were lost.

Union did restart the semester two weeks later. But that was just the beginning.

Over the next several months, more than 5,000 volunteers and 8,000 donors from all over the world came to Union’s aid. The university regrouped and embarked upon an aggressive rebuilding plan that saw 14 new student housing buildings completed and opened for the fall 2008 semester.

Enrollment for the fall semester was up a hefty 14 percent, and early indications are favorable for another strong fall enrollment in 2009. Union dedicated the new housing facilities on Sept. 12. Six weeks later, the university opened the new Carl Grant Events Center.

Union marked 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” featured a 250-voice community choir plus testimonies from students and others whose lives were changed by the tornado.