JACKSON, Tenn. – May 6, 2003 – On Monday, May 5, Union’s director of visual communication Jim Veneman and I, along with theatre professor David Burke and his son William toured downtown Jackson by car and on foot to see what damage the previous night’s tornado had done. What follows is an account of my initial impressions of what had happened to our city. --Chris Allen, Director of News and Media Relations
The broken power poles on East College Street form an “X” over the blacktop. You won’t find this symbol in any driver’s manual, but the message is clear: Road Closed. As we wind our way through the streets of downtown Jackson on May 5, the day after an F-4 tornado, that message is repeated by downed trees, downed power lines and overturned vehicles.
On every street, sidewalk and storefront there are scattered chunks of tar, shingles, glass and wood. It is as if every downtown roof was folded inside out and put through an enormous wood chipper, spraying the pieces over a dozen city blocks. What yesterday was a drainage gutter for one of these buildings now resembles bad modern art, loosely wrapped around the base of a lamppost.
At New Beginnings Fellowship on East Lafayette Street, there is a chain-link gate embedded in the stucco wall. We will never know where it once belonged. A few blocks away at the Jackson Prayer Center, the faithful sweep glass from the floor. These two were blessed.
St. Luke’s Episcopal and Mother Liberty CME were not. The leftovers of these historic structures look eerily similar; just the skeleton of each remains, and the surrounding area is littered with bricks. The church bus at Mother Liberty is lying on its side in the corner of the parking lot next to the trash dumpster, clearly little more than trash itself now.
Unity Park, a memorial to the victims of the tornado which ripped through Jackson in 1999, was not immune. One of the 2500 pound concrete spheres representing the touch down points of that twister was blown across Chester Street by this tornado. It took three young men to roll it back to the park.
Behind the New Southern Senior Center on East Baltimore cars are stacked three high in the parking lot. Some of these vehicles still have windows intact, but the building does not. I am reminded how poorly I understand physics.
Nearby, two men and a dog sit on the sidewalk guarding the merchandise of a pawn shop which is now without windows or power. I remark, “It is, after all, just stuff. Unless, of course, it’s your stuff.”
As we proceed, we encounter a pair of Union students. Then another pair. Then another. They have already been serving and are looking for ways to continue to serve. Classes have been canceled, and they could be sleeping, playing or just wasting time. It is, after all, just time. Unless, of course, it’s God’s time.
Minutes later, they are working to help salvage as much of St. Luke’s as possible. Less than twenty-four hours after this tragedy, the ecumenicity of need has energized the members of Christ. We are one body.
I am reminded of John 9 and Jesus’ words to his disciples regarding the man born blind, “…this happened so that the work of God might be displayed…”
May the work of God continue to be displayed.