JACKSON, Tenn. – Feb. 8, 2008 – When Ethiopian Mikias Mohammed entered Union University last fall for his first year of college, he never imagined he would soon encounter a tornado.
In his home region of Ethiopia, tucked in the Entoto Mountain range in eastern Africa, the mild climate yields a three-month rainy season with, at most, minor thunderstorms. On Feb. 5, Mohammed witnessed much more than a thunderstorm. He can now tell his family in Ethiopia that he’s lived through an EF-4 tornado.
“I have never experienced anything like this,” said Mohammed, a freshman computer science major. “We don’t have this kind of weather back home.”
The evening began just as any other. He and his roommate went for a run and a competitive game of racquetball. After losing every game, he returned to his room sweaty.
But instead of immediately taking a shower, Mohammed decided to rest on his bed for a moment and read over his written composition homework. He never finished the homework. He may never see his textbook or laptop computer again.
“The sirens started going off and the guys who were upstairs came downstairs and some were watching TV, cooking food and taking a shower,” Mohammed said.
“All of a sudden the lights got crazy and then the big one,” he said. “Lights went off, came back on and went off again. Then, came this noise. I thought it was a train. After that I couldn’t hear anything -- the windows shattered and the wind smashed me against the wall. Everything just started to fall down.”
Mohammed could hear his roommates yelling from the bathroom: “Is anyone here? Is anyone here?” He was barefoot, clawed his way out of the rubble and walked across the living room to open the bathroom door. Inside he saw about nine men huddled together, covered in blood and surrounded by water gushing from busted pipes.
“Everyone is bleeding! Everyone is bleeding!” Mohammed screamed.
Then he heard others calling from outside the apartment.
“One guy carried me out and said, ‘Here is a pillow, stand on this and don’t move.’ I stood there for a while and then climbed off to get some shoes,” he said.
Mohammad and his classmates were relocated to Pennick Academic Complex, where they were told another storm was moving toward campus. “That just made it worse,” he said.
Mohammad found other students praying and reading Bibles inside the building. It took him only a moment to realize he was not OK.
“I started acting crazy because I got hit on the head,” Mohammed said. “They got me towels and cold water to keep me awake.”
Doctors examined and released Mohammed from the hospital. They told him headaches would follow, but he would be fine.
“Praise the Lord we made it out,” he said. “It was not a good experience but thank God we are all alive.”
One of Mohammed’s main concerns was his mother hearing about what had occurred on Feb. 5.
“Do not tell my mom,” Mohammed said. “She worries about everything.”
A family friend from Ethiopia, currently in the United States, recently visited his fellow countryman bringing gifts from home and words of protection promised to his mother. The gifts from home are now lost but the protection has remained.
The room Mohammed once called home is now a pile of bricks and metal. With cautious hesitation, he decided to see what used to be his new American home. Speechless, he looked at the pile of rubble he had just dug out of with his own hands. He thanks God for protection -- not only for himself, but for all his American “family.”
Just as every other student at Union, Mohammed is on the road to recovery. However, his will be a bit different. He returned to campus Feb. 7 hoping to find his passport and international documents. Mohammed left campus that evening, taking shelter with friends and church family, and without any personal belongings.
Knowing the university will do its best to retrieve his documents, he optimistically left officials a friend’s phone number and continues to wait. He will not be able to return home like most Union students but will rely on the kindness of his Jackson family.
His story of survival is not alone nor is his positive and encouraging spirit.
“Everything is gone, but I am thankful we all made it and no one died,” Mohammed said.
By Alison Ball ('08)