Students, alumni affected by tornado

Photo Courtesy of Larry McCormack. Gov. Bill Lee hugs Putnam County resident Kayla Cowen as he says a prayer with her after she told him she was trying to find something to salvage after losing her apartment to a tornado and helping to identify a neighbor who was killed by the tornado Tuesday, March 3, 2020.

A powerful tornado hit Nashville early morning on March 3, affecting many individuals, including those with ties to California Baptist University. There are 24 reported fatalities, many are injured and industrial buildings and homes have been destroyed.

The tornado was first reported at 1 a.m. with wind gusts of 165 mph following severe storms. For many residents, the tornado was a complete surprise.

Larry McCormack, photojournalist for The Tennessean and guest guest speaker in the Journalism & New Media and Public Relations Program, has been working at the site of the tornado capturing images of the aftermath. While photographing the story, McCormack was able to hear many people relay their experience with the tornado.

McCormack said many social media users are using the hashtag #Nashvillestrong, including the Nashville Predators, who tweeted a picture with the hashtag on their hockey sticks. McCormack also addressed the current conditions for housing people who have lost their homes.

“Here in Mt. Juliet, Victory Baptist Church was the epicenter for it. I actually went there with a couple that had been rescued,” McCormack said. “I needed a place because there was a second storm coming through and I needed shelter.”

McCormack said he also encountered an elderly couple while they were being rescued from beneath their house. They only made it to their basement moments before the floor they were previously standing on collapsed.

“There’s a thousand of those stories,” McCormack said. “I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard that said ‘My teenage son dove down the steps just in the nick of time and was saved.’”

McCormack said that he was able to capture some aerial shots of the damage and the path of the tornado on a flight with Gov. Bill Lee to Cookeville, Tenn. Once there, McCormack shot photos of him speaking with residents and surveying the damage.

“(The governor) met one woman who had lost her apartment,” McCormack said. “She was raised in foster care and didn’t have many memories or things to hold on to, so she was just scavenging the ground. When she told the governor this, he stopped to pray with her and hug her.”

Tess Schoonhoven, CBU alumna, lives in Nashville and said the disaster was all the more alarming because of when it began.

“The tornado hit in the middle of the night so I was woken up suddenly to alerts, calls, texts and voicemails from people telling me where they were and asking me if I was OK,” Schoonhoven said.

She also spoke about the response from the people of Nashville to the tornado.

“Immediately after the storm people were forming groups to help, navigating ways to donate items, setting up GoFund Me (pages) and spreading awareness to keep everyone in the city informed,” Schoonhoven said. “Blood drive donation centers were overwhelmed with people coming in to donate to help local hospitals. I tried to go and donate blood and they couldn’t take any more volunteers because so many people were looking to help.”

While the disaster is devastating for Tennessee, Schoonhoven said hope can still be found amid tragedy.

“I think we’re all grateful to be safe but we’re sobered by the reality of the days ahead,” Schoonhoven said. “It’s going to be a long road, but the city of Nashville is strong and God’s power to overcome even in this remains present.”

Phillip Ndowu, senior biology and communication studies double major, is from Tennessee. He flew home right away and is currently adjusting to the new reality the tornado has brought.

“In a matter of minutes, our whole lives were changed,” Ndowu said. “We tried to salvage as much as possible, grabbed any valuables and moved to my cousin’s house. Since our house was exposed, we were concerned about burglary overnight. But, we had faith that God would protect what little of our house that we had remaining.”

Ndowu also said he was grateful for the supportiveness of the CBU community and encouraged people to continue to take actions to assist those affected by the tornado.

“During this time, we want to thank the many members of CBU for being so kind and helpful, whether that be through prayer or financial assistance,” Ndowu said. “Going forward, the best way for CBU students is to help is to continue to pray for the families affected by the tornado as well as donating through the TEMA (Tennessee Emergency Management Assistance).”

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