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College student: ‘I’ll never forget’ tornado aftermath

Union University sophomore Jordan Thompson is interviewed by a reporter the day after an F-4 tornado destroyed his dorm on the campus in Jackson, Tenn., burying Thompson for three hours in the rubble. UMNS photos by Sherry Thompson.

By Cathy Farmer*
Feb. 14, 2008 | JACKSON, Tenn. (UMNS)

Much of Union's student housing was damaged or destroyed by the Feb. 5 twister, displacing hundreds of students.

Buried for three hours under tons of rubble left by an F-4 tornado, Jordan Thompson found new brothers and a deeper belief in God.

"I’d have given up, 100 percent given up, without my faith," said Thompson, a member of Germantown (Tenn.) United Methodist Church, of his entrapment after a twister leveled his two-story dormitory at Union University in Jackson.

The 20-year-old sophomore had sought refuge on his dorm's bottom floor, along with six other male students, as a storm system roared through Jackson on Feb. 5. When a tornado bounced across the 1,100-student campus, it destroyed much of Union's student housing, including Adams Hall where Thompson lived.

Only seconds after Thompson and his classmates took shelter, the ceiling and walls came crashing down. The young men were trapped underneath the wreckage, scarcely able to breathe.

"I couldn’t move," Thompson recalled. "I could pick my head up maybe two to three inches. My legs were tucked up under me and I was face down." He remained in that position for three hours until rescuers pulled him through a small hole in the rubble.

During those three hours, Thompson and the other young men forged a bond. "I’ll never forget what we said to each other while we were under there," he said. "We’re brothers now."

Waiting for rescue

They prayed for each other and recited Scripture while waiting for rescue. "There’s no way not to see God’s hand on us," he said quietly. "We’re all alive ... and that makes no sense without God in the picture.

"I’ll never forget what we said to each other while we were under there. We’re brothers now." –Jordan Thompson

"I won’t say we didn’t falter at all, but I was never mad at God or asking why He had put me there. I knew I was there to help the other guys. If we had been alone, I don’t think any of us would have gotten out. Sometimes one of us would say, 'I’m slipping, I’m going!' but God gave us the strength to help by talking to them."

The students yelled for help as they were able, but the pressure of the rubble made it impossible for some of them to speak. Thompson was able to hold onto the hand of one of the more severely injured students, Jason Kaspar. "He was having trouble breathing, crushed by stuff, and from the dust and insulation in the air," Thompson said. "I told him to squeeze my hand once in a while so I’d know he was OK."

Though he could not call anyone, Thompson managed to free his cell phone and flip it open to use the light to see Kaspar's face. "I kept checking; I was afraid he was gone," recalled Thompson.

More than 1½ hours after the tornado hit, the students' pleas for help were heard and rescuers began digging through the crumpled building. Amazingly, Thompson walked away with only cuts and bruises. Three others have been released from the hospital and the last three––Kaspar, Matt Kelley and David Wilson––continue to be in serious condition.

"One may be in the hospital for two months. Several have been on dialysis. They’re not 100 percent out of the woods yet, but the doctors say they should make a full recovery," said Thompson.

Thompson's car is one of hundreds tossed about by the storm on the West Tennessee campus of 1,100 students.

Thompson spoke with United Methodist News Service by telephone from his home in Collierville, a town just outside of Memphis, following his rescue. He and his family keep daily contact with the other students who were trapped.

"What we said to each other during those hours, it’s emotional. I’ll never forget it. We’re brothers now. And I’ll never be the same. I’ve seen the love God has for His children."

Classes to resume

A private school affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, Union closed its campus to begin a massive cleanup. School officials announced Feb. 13 that classes will resume Feb. 20 as displaced students secure housing elsewhere. The university will hold a school-wide worship service Feb. 19 in G.M. Savage Chapel.

Thompson, who plays on the men's soccer team at Union, plans to return and wants to be a part of the Union family even more now, said his father. "He already has gotten his new room assignment and definitely will be back," said Dave Thompson. "I think he has a bond that has truly changed him."

Like other parents, the elder Thompson is both amazed and grateful that Union was spared of any fatalities. About 50 students were hospitalized and hundreds displaced. "When you think that there were 1,100 students on that campus, you can only say that it was the grace of God that no one was killed. It was a miracle," he said.

*Farmer is director of communications for the Memphis Annual (regional) Conference of The United Methodist Church.

News media contact: Marta Aldrich, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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