JACKSON, Tenn. – May 5, 2003 – Union University students huddled in bathrooms and closets as a deadly swarm of tornadoes swept across West Tennessee May 5, killing 14 people and injuring more than 65. The twisters missed the university campus and slammed into downtown and south Jackson, leaving the area in ruins.
University President David S. Dockery said no students were injured but the campus sustained moderate damage.
"We give thanks to God that no one was hurt," Dockery said. "We have many broken windows and much water damage, but the extent of the damage to the campus, thank goodness, is quite limited."
The damage was the result of a fierce storm that pounded the campus with "baseball size" hail. At least 130 automobiles were damaged and the windows in about 50 dorm rooms were blown out by the hail. Several university commons areas also sustained heavy water damage and a number of trees were either uprooted or damaged.
Dockery cancelled day classes and invited students to assist with the campus clean-up. Classes were expected to resume on May 6.
The university was one of few places in the city to maintain electricity. Students, however, were under orders not to drink water from city taps for 24 hours.
The twisters hit Jackson around 11:00 p.m. on May 4 as students were winding down their weekend activities. Steve Yzaguirre, a junior from Washington, said he and about 20 students were meeting in their dorm when the hail storm erupted.
"That hail was pretty crazy," Yzaguirre said. "I've never seen anything like it. You always hear about hail that size, but to see it pounding the cars and windows was incredible."
Emergency sirens sounded throughout the county and that sent students scurrying for safety within their dorms. Hurt Complex Residential Director Pam Schock, said the Union students maintained their composure during the nighttime ordeal.
"When the sirens go off, we activate on-campus sirens and the students are directed to take cover," she said. "Our students responded in a very calm manner."
Schock said after the storm passed, students helped clean up the debris. Dockery showed up on campus shortly after midnight to help and encourage students in the storm's aftermath.
"We are blessed in many ways," Dockery said. "But our city has been hit very, very hard. Downtown is devastated. We look forward to opportunity to assist those who assisted us last fall."
Dockery recalled the Nov. 10 twister that hit Union University and caused more than $2 million in damage. Miraculously no one was hurt in that incident.
"Please be assured that everyone is safe," Dockery said. "Our staff monitored the situation throughout the evening and did a marvelous job providing care for our residential students who were on campus."
Once city officials give their approval, Dockery said he hopes shuttle vans filled with students will be able to head downtown to assist in the cleanup effort.