JACKSON, Tenn. – Feb. 8, 2008 – U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen visited the campus of Union University Feb. 7 to review damage caused by Tuesday’s tornado and deliver words of hope and encouragement to listening ears.
“The fact that no one died on this campus is a real testimony of the preparedness this campus and administration had here,” Bredesen said. “Without it or without the ‘training run’ in 2002 with the tornado that came through, it is inconceivable to me there would not have been extensive loss of life when you see the extent of the devastation.”
Nearly 1,200 students were on campus the night of the storm. Just four hours later, every student was alive and accounted for. Of the 51 students taken to Jackson-Madison County General Hospital with injuries, five remain hospitalized with two of those in intensive care.
Chertoff said he was appalled at the destruction of the campus upon his arrival.
“It reminds you of the force of nature and that there are some things you can’t stop. But you can prepare for them and make the damage less worse than it might have been otherwise,” Chertoff said.
Despite the vast obliteration, Chertoff said he is most thankful there was no loss of life.
“You can’t rebuild lost lives, so the No. 1 priority is making sure everyone is safe. The fact that you all did what you had to do is a great credit to you as a school and administration,” Chertoff told Union faculty, staff and students upon his arrival at the university.
Union University President David S. Dockery explained a five-phase plan for revitalizing the campus and student body: campus assessment, students’ return to homes, damage clean-up, resumption of classes and rebuilding of campus.
“We have a plan and if we can carry it out, which I think we can, we’re going to be OK,” Dockery said. “We’ve got some tough days ahead of us. I’m not trying to say it’ll be easy, but if everyone will rally together and follow the plan I think we can do it.”
Dockery has said nearly 80 percent of Union’s dorms have been destroyed. Seventeen buildings sustained damage with Jennings Hall the hardest hit academic building. The only building that was not touched by the storm was the Fesmire Field House. Dockery has estimated the damages will total at least $40 million.
Because many students have lost all personal belongings, Bredesen encouraged community members to focus on more long-term involvement to help Union students begin to rebuild their lives.
“The next week or two is when we really get in and help people get their lives together,” Bredesen said. “After the media has gone home there are going to be a lot of families in Tennessee, and a lot of places that are going to need help over a period of months. We ask people in Tennessee to show the kind of neighborliness and compassion that I think we’re known for.
“When it gets out of the newspaper headlines and off the evening news is not when this needs to stop. It needs to keep going for months to help these people get their lives together.”
Chertoff said that on a national level the goal is to hear from the governor about what the needs are. The federal government will then be able to do a more “detailed assessment” of what can be done to help with provisions and rebuilding, Chertoff said.
“We’re going to be here to stand shoulder to shoulder with the governor and help you get cleaned up and get back to school,” Chertoff told Union students.
Bredesen said that despite the destruction he finds hope in Tennessee’s communities banning together in support.
“It always strikes me just how many people are in our state, and I’m in a room full of them, who just roll up their sleeves and do what it takes to be a community and reach out to people,” Bredesen said. “I hope you know how fortunate and lucky you are that no one lost their life on this campus.”
By Brittany Howerton ('08)