Tag: March 19

One Year Later: A year after the March 19 tornadoes, Jacksonville picks up the pieces of a wounded community

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Daniel Mayes, Editor-in-Chief


One year ago. An EF-3 tornado. $100 million in damage. All but seven campus buildings affected. Three academic buildings that were complete losses. Two weeks of missed class. Thirty-nine homes in the surrounding communities that were condemned. 6,000 volunteers that flooded into the town in the next few days.

There are several statistics bouncing around Jacksonville, Alabama this week.

One year ago, on March 19, 2018, the little college town that houses Jacksonville State University was slammed with a storm that altered many lives.

The statistic heard most often as those on campus and in the community look back on the events of that grim day?

None of those altered lives were taken.

“The biggest blessing of the tornadic event is that we lost no lives,” JSU president John Beehler said at a commemoration event on Tuesday. “We were blessed that it was spring break, and that no one was killed a year ago. The recent tornado in Lee County illustrates that it is far too easy to have loss of life.”

Hearing stories from survivors of the tornado in Jacksonville a year ago, it truly is amazing that such devastation didn’t result in a single death, like the Lee County tornado that claimed 23 lives just weeks ago.

Stories like Kate Mason’s, who rode out the tornado in the former Winn Place apartments while her roof was literally ripped from over her head.

Or Phany Gangbo’s, an International student whose first ever experience with a tornado was last year when her room in the International House was severely damaged while she stayed with her host family

Or Paul Lindsay’s, a veteran who settled in Jacksonville for a peaceful life after serving two stints in Iraq, who had his left arm amputated after an iron pipe hit him during the storm.

Or Meagan Medders’s, an employee of the since demolished and rebuilt Dollar General on Highway 204, who had just gotten under a table in the break room of the store before the roof collapsed in on her.

All of those individuals told their stories in a candlelight ceremony Tuesday night, 365 days to the hour of that night that has left such lasting impact for each of them.

These stories are echoed by the hundreds of students still on campus during spring break and the residents of a town hit hard. Those that were in Gamecock Village, The Reserve, or any of the other apartment complexes that were ravaged on that night. Those that lived in the over 400 houses in Jacksonville that received damage. The members of West Point Baptist Church, which was almost completely blown away by the tornado and has since been long finished off by bulldozers.

So much damage, so much devastation, so many people who lost all their possessions or their homes.

Yet, a year later, you sometimes have to be looking hard to even see the results of that March night.

You’ll still notice the spots of blank where hundreds of trees used to be. You’ll still see the hulking ruined desolation of Merrill Hall as the University fights for more insurance money before tearing it down. You’ll still inevitably have to walk around fences and cross under covered pathways as the few repairs that are finishing up around campus are completed.

One year later though, Jacksonville and its University have done so much healing for the little time they’ve had.

“It’s hard to believe that it’s already the one year anniversary, and it’s hard to believe how far we’ve come in rebuilding our campus in such a short period of time,” Beehler said on the anniversary of the storms. “FEMA personnel have told us that they’ve never seen a campus with such destruction come so far, so fast.”

Ask anyone what makes Jacksonville special, and they’ll immediately respond that it’s not the buildings and landscape that was lost or scarred, but its people. A people that came together to prove why the “Friendliest Campus in the South” moniker has little to do with the physical campus itself.

“It’s really a celebration of how far we’ve come so fast,” Beehler said. “It’s a celebration of the human spirit that came together to help us rebuild. We got knocked down physically and mentally, but we immediately took action.”

That human spirit saw thousands of volunteers, with a great number of them students or Jacksonville residents that were less affected than some, coming together to get a community back on its feet. Restoring a campus that was able to hold class just over two weeks later.

For a University that could have easily been affected for a long, long time, students were patient and understanding while recovery took place.

“We couldn’t have made the recovery that we have made without the students being patient with us as we scrambled and struggled through all the issues that we dealt with,” said Timothy B. King, the Vice President for Student Affairs at Jacksonville State.

“When we talk to our students, we find that the students really wanted to come back and rebuild JSU because they love it here,” Beehler stated. “Typically when there is a natural disaster, a university will lose 5%-10% of enrollment.”

Yet JSU hasn’t. A small dip of enrollment in Fall 2018 was followed by an increase that saw Spring 2019 actually boast more students than the pre-tornado Spring 2018.

A year later, JSU stands poised to rebound from the March 19 disaster better than before.

With repairs completed on all but three buildings, a new recreation center, and new-and-improved Merrill and Wallace Halls on the way in the next few years, JSU is putting the finishing touches on a remarkable recovery.

Although no one in Jacksonville will likely ever forget March 19, 2018, they are ready to put it in the rear-view mirror.

“In the wake of devastation and disaster, we all showed a true Gamecock spirit,” Beehler said on Tuesday. “We did not complain, we did not waver, we did not succumb to defeat. With the help of God and many others, we will come out of this victorious. That Gamecock spirit is just going to carry us through, no matter what hits us.”

One year later, James Spann visits JSU to talk March 19 tornado, storm safety

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Spann broadcasted ABC 33/40 weather telecasts from JSU’s campus on Monday. (Scott Young, The Chanticleer)

Scott Young, Staff Reporter


James Spann, the ABC 33/40 meteorologist familiar to many Alabamians, visited the campus of Jacksonville State University on Monday almost a year after an EF-3 tornado devastated Jacksonville to meet with attendees and illustrate the importance of staying weather aware.

Spann broadcasted live weather forecasts in between meeting with members of the Jacksonville community as they filed into the fifth floor of the Burgess-Snow stadium.

Although many in the community were displaced by the tornadoes, the silver lining is that no lives were lost to the EF-3 tornado that impacted Jacksonville, Spann says. Buildings can be rebuilded; trees can be replanted; but lives cannot be replaced.

“It seems like people in Calhoun County were ready,” Spann said. “They planned ahead and had a way of hearing warnings. They knew where to go and got there when the warning was issued. This is the mindset we want for all Alabamians.”

Spann compliments the university on its speedy recovery and the repairs made to the many buildings that were damaged.

“I am in Jacksonville on a regular basis, and you can’t help but be impressed by the tornado recovery in just one year,” Spann said. “Yes, there is work left to be done, but most buildings on campus look great and student housing is back in order.”

Alongside Cocky the Gamecock, Spann encouraged viewers to purchase a weather radio, stressing that people should never rely on outdoor sirens alone to notify them of tornado warnings.

“Every Alabama home and business needs a NOAA Weather Radio (NEVER rely on an outdoor siren), and everyone needs Wireless Emergency Alerts enabled on their phone,” Spann said. “Everyone must know in advance where they are going during a tornado warning and have helmets for everyone in that safe place.”

People gathered with their weather radios in hand to have their radios programmed by the weather team, sign up for a drawing to win a free weather radio, and even get a cutout of Spann’s face.

On Tuesday, anniversary ceremonies commemorating one-year since the tornadoes are planned around campus with the first one at 11:30 a.m. at the Pete Mathews Coliseum and a candlelight vigil at 7:30 p.m. in front of Bibb Graves Hall. Offices will be closed and classes between 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. are cancelled to allow faculty and students the opportunity to attend the ceremony.

NWS Storm Spotter Course held in Jacksonville

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Gerald Satterwhite, a meteorologist of the NWS, discusses RADAR during the free storm spotter course in Jacksonville on Thursday. (Scott Young, The Chanticleer)

Scott Young, Staff Reporter


The National Weather Service (NWS) Birmingham visited Jacksonville Thursday evening to hold a free storm spotter training course which was open to the public. The event was designed to teach attendees how to become storm spotters, who, according to the National Weather Service’s website, “play a critical role of giving the NWS vital ground truth data, which helps the NWS perform its primary mission, to save lives and property.”

“When we talk about investing our time and effort to give a class, where better to do that than a community that’s been affected by a significant tornado,” said John Block of the NWS. “This is about you getting information and understanding the principles of storm spotting.”

During the spotter course, Gerald Satterwhite, a meteorologist of the NWS, overviewed topics such as identifying types of clouds and tornadoes, development and structure of thunderstorms, and how to safely report this information to the NWS. With a little over six months since tornadoes pillaged the homes of many living in Jacksonville, weather awareness has become a higher concern, especially among those directly affected.

“The severe weather event was forecast a couple days ahead of time, so there was an awareness that something could happen,” said Satterwhite, in reference to the March 19 Jacksonville tornadoes. “It was a moderate risk day, so there was a lot of attention because moderate risks are pretty rare.”

To report any severe weather such as tornadic activity, hail or flooding, you can send a report via Twitter to @NWSBirmingham or make an online report. Before making any reports, be sure to become aware of the basics of storm spotting, which can be found at www.weather.gov/bmx/spottertraining.

Six Months

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Daniel Mayes, Editor-in-Chief


Six months.

Six months since a quiet Monday during spring break morphed into something much worse.

Six months since the warnings from James Spann put fear, and caution, into the minds of all.

Six months since home no longer looked like home.

Six months since the homes of some could no longer be home.

Six months since a lot of lives changed.

Six months since the fact that lives were merely changed and not, thankfully, lost, was the only glimmer of hope for a community and university now thrust into agony.

Six months since March 19 became the new April 27 for Jacksonville, Alabama.

Six months since anyone that ever was connected to Jacksonville State woke up with a feeling of emptiness.

In those six short months, we’ve come a long way.

Sure, the scars are still there. On the campus. On the community. On its people.

We could have let that tornado rip us apart. It certainly did the town and campus. We’ve been left to deal with these problems, and there have been disagreements along the way.

We could complain about the way the University is handling things. About the issues with campus and off-campus housing within the city. We could complain about having to navigate a mazing morass of fences to get to class or having to strain to hear our instructors above the unavoidable noises of construction outside.

But for the most part, we’ve come together to show great patience, understanding, love and compassion in a time of need for so many. We’ve grasped the larger picture. We’ve understood that it could have been so much worse.

We’ve proven time and time again that the reason Jacksonville is “home” is not because of the houses or buildings or land or trees that will never be the same again, but because of the people that the tornado, thankfully, spared.

We really are “#GamecockStrong.”

 

Six Months Later: JSU slowly regains normalcy after March 19 disaster

Daniel Mayes, Editor-in-Chief


Construction on campus during the summer of 2018.
Six Months after the storms, JSU is still in the midst of rebuilding. (Grace Cockrell/JSU)

Six months after devastating EF-3 tornadoes whipped through campus and community on March 19, 2018, Jacksonville State University finds itself rebounding, but still recovering.

“Showing the true Gamecock spirit, we rose up to meet every obstacle in our path,” said Jacksonville State University President Beehler. “Now, six months later, we have made substantial progress ahead of schedule with bright and sunny days ahead. JSU is emerging stronger and better than ever!”

According to JSU, damage estimates to University facilities and properties has risen to $70 million, up from early estimates of $42 million. 50 of JSU’s 70 on-campus structures were damaged, and 40 are currently undergoing roof repairs.

Despite the heavily damaged campus, JSU saw no meaningful dip in enrollment this semester.

“Undergraduate student enrollment decreased by 170 students compared to last fall, but this loss was counterbalanced by an increase of 82 graduate students,” JSU announced on Tuesday. “That means JSU may be down 88 total students, but since its students are taking more classes, revenue remains steady.”

“This news is something to celebrate,” Beehler said. “There were moments over the past few months when we thought we were facing an enrollment loss of 5-10 percent. That kind of drop would have been devastating to JSU both financially and socially. I am very pleased with these results and want to thank all employees for their efforts in the recovery and rebuilding process and every student who stood by the university during this difficult time.”

JSU says repairs should be completed within the the next two weeks at Theron Montgomery Building, Crow Hall, Dixon Hall, Curtiss Hall, Fitzpatrick Hall, Daugette Hall and Hammond Hall, while work will continue through October/November at Ayers Hall, Bibb Graves Hall, Martin Hall, McGee Hall and Stone Center. The repairs at Houston Cole Library are scheduled to wrap up in January.

JSU also announced that the University’s two ongoing construction projects that were unaffected by the tornadoes, the new Fitness and Wellness Center and newly renovated Rudy Abbott Field at Jim Case Stadium, will be completed as scheduled. The Wellness Center is slated to open in January, while there will be a grand opening ceremony for the completed baseball stadium September 29.

Just six months after devastation rocked the community, Jacksonville State University, while not there yet, is well on its way to a return to normalcy, for campus, students and faculty.