Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Students at a private Baptist church resume classes today after a tornado tore through its Tennessee campus earlier this month, destroying buildings and injuring several students, two of whom remain hospitalized.

The Feb. 5 tornado caused at least $40 million in damages at Union University in Jackson, and university President David S. Dockery said cleanup efforts continue.

“It’s been like trying to open a college from scratch in two weeks,” said Gene Fant, the dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at Union University.

Junior Heather Childers said she is “excited” to start the semester again and anticipates a return to a normal college routine.

With nearly 80 percent of student dormitories destroyed, many of the nearly 1,100 residential students have had to move into alternative housing for the rest of the semester.

About 350 students are expected to live in on-campus housing. About 300 are living at an inn owned and operated by a Baptist church, and the rest are staying with faculty, staff and friends of the university or have obtained alternative housing.

The university’s board of trustees were to meet with contractors about a plan to rebuild student dormitories, said Tim Ellsworth, the director of news and media relations at Union.

The plan would provide enough student dormitories for the fall, with construction ending in January, said Michael Chute, professor of communication arts.

Miss Childers was one of the students displaced. She said the tornado leveled her dormitory and led her to find alternative housing with a family from the church she attends while in school. Miss Childers is from Simpsonville, Ky., nearly six hours from Union University.

The academic schedule at Union was expanded to compensate for the two weeks students were out of school.

Mr. Chute said the response effort has received an “outpouring of support” from more than 80 universities, including a $100,000 check from Belmont University, a private Christian institution.

Miss Childers has seen the progress at Union in the past two weeks.

“It’s a new campus every single day,” she said.

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