Tornado brings appreciation of safety

It was about an hour wait. They were sitting in a room with no windows waiting for it to be over.

A tornado warning was in effect. After being cramped in a room waiting anxiously, the rumbling occurred.

Things seem so important. New items hit the market everyday, the new 32 gigabyte touch iPod, the new Hobo purse or that new dress from Nordstrom. But it isn’t until everything is gone that you learn to appreciate things.

The night the tornado hit in Jackson, Tenn., I was online trying to buy a new backpack from Anthropologie. My friends were trying to survive and I was just trying to figure out if I could afford the bag.

When I heard about the disaster Tuesday night, I was in utter shock. Two of my best friends are at Union University, the school that was affected by the natural disaster. Pictures of the incident on CNN and those posted on Facebook from my friends seem so surreal. CNN said this tornado was the worst in the South in 20 years.

Sure I’ve seen “Twister” and the cow stuck in the tornado being swirled away, but this one, probably because of the emotional attachment, was hard to watch.

I was teary all day, constantly texting and calling my friends to see if my friends at Union were OK. The lines were dead at first and would go straight to voice mail. I started to worry, panic that they were part of the 54 who died.

Then the news came, and relief trickled in.

But all I could think about was how much stuff they have lost, how all of their stuff lay under a pile of rubble.

My friend Alaina, a junior education major at Union, explained to me the details of the incident. It was a Tuesday night and that meant she had to be at work in the gym. Luckily, she decided to take her purse with her, which had her cell phone, camera and iPod.

Spring semester had only started three days ago and she was just trying to get into the flow of events. Then the warning was in effect. She had to evacuate into a safer room.

Then it happened.

The tornado hit campus and the walls behind her began to shake.

“My ears started to hurt,” she said. “It was like being in an airplane when the pressure makes your ears pop.”

It swirled through the campus, picking up cars, breaking windows, destroying the campus. Alaina and the other 2,000 undergraduate students were left with debris once the tornado had run its course. More than 50 Union students were taken to the hospital. Her car, now a mere metal frame with no windows, sits in the parking lot. Her belongings are gone. She isn’t allowed to go to her former room because it is too dangerous.

Her dorm room is destroyed and she has nowhere to live at Union at the moment. Her family is in Ecuador and her brother is in Fort Worth.

“I’m homeless,” Alaina said.

It’s only for the moment, yet that feeling of not owning anything takes a toll. Thankfully, members of her church have offered their homes and have fed and taken care of Alaina and her roommates.

She said school was set to tentatively start Feb. 18, but she’s not sure what’s going to happen, how the school will rebuild or if she’ll ever get her stuff back. One thing is clear, she’s just thankful to be alive.

There are no words for the relief I felt to know she was OK, and this incident just makes me appreciate the warm bed I’ll get to sleep in tonight, and maybe save the money for a better cause than buying that new backpack I’ve been eyeing.

Ana Bak is a junior news-editorial major from Quito, Ecuador.