Dan and I were settling down to watch a long evening of primary returns – Super Tuesday, a political junkie’s dream come true.
We had the pizza. I poured a glass of Cabernet and Dan had his beer. I was talking on the phone with an elderly family friend from Central Florida, the Republican part of the state. She’s a Yellow Dog Democrat and was bemoaning her neighbors’ perfidy. She was explaining that Virginia was still her legal residence and because she didn’t trust Florida voting machines, she was going to come back to Centreville earlier this year to vote in the presidential elections rather than change her residence or file for an absentee ballot. “I just don’t trust them down here,” she declared. I was commiserating with her when Dan's cell phone rang.
With a grim look on his face, he interrupted me. “Jim just called. Lara’s dorm was demolished in a tornado but she’s safe.”
I quickly wrapped up my call. Horror struck, Dan and I both turned from election returns to the weather channel. We spent all night flipping back and forth between the primary contests and the the news out of the mid South. We tracked the path of the storm, which appeared to be headed to where Dan's mom lived. We called his sister, Dixie, in Huntsville, not in the path of the deadly tornados. And we checked to make sure our niece and nephew, both at the University of Alabama, were not in harm's way. And we worried about Jim's daughter Lara, whom I had held in my arms when she was a baby and I was a newlywed just meeting her for the first time during one Christmas in Tennessee.
Jim is Dan’s best friend. In fact, he was the best man at our wedding.
They met in junior high school and became buddies. During high school, Jim was president of their class in his senior year and dated the prettiest sophomore. He later married her.
Jim worked as a cop in Tennessee then studied for the ministry. Today, he works as a hospital chaplain on the oncology ward in Louisville, Kentucky and is pursuing a doctorate in theology. His son is following in his foot steps and studying to be a preacher. And his youngest daughter, Lara, is a psychology major at Jackson University, in Jackson, Tennessee.
Yes, that Jackson. The one devastated by the tornados last night.
Lara’s dorm was the one that collapsed. She was not there at the time and promptly called her parents before the news reports hit the wire to reassure them that she was safe. But she spent a long, harrowing time waiting for her roommates and friends to be accounted for. Miraculously, they all survived. They all lost their belongings.
Jim and his wife are driving from Louisville to Jackson tomorrow to pick Lara up. Her car was totaled by the storm. But she’s alive.
She and her fellow students lost their possessions, their cars, their clothes, their sentimental knick knacks, and all the memorabilia of their young lives. It, like their dorm, was gone in a flash. But they are safe, intact, and alive, though some sustained injuries.
Below are some pictures, taken by Andrew McMurtrie, of the devastation. Here’s a link to the Tennessean for more pictures of the aftermath of last night's storm.
Below: All that's left of Watters Common, the Student Union and dorm where Lara lived.
A student being loaded into an ambulance. Six students were trapped in the Student Union for hours before being rescued.
Local churches opened their doors and provided shelter for the students. Families put them up for the night and will also put up the parents who are coming to take their sons and daughters home.