Sarah Logan stood in a doorway leading to the bathroom of her dorm room, hanging on to the frame literally for dear life as a monster tornado ravaged the Tennessee college she attends.
Her eyes tightly shut as glass and debris pelted her, Logan prayed out loud for deliverance.
“We just felt God’s hand of protection over us,” the third-year student at Union University in Jackson told TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira on Thursday. “When you look at the desolation and destruction on our campus and realize there were 1,200 students here and not one single fatality, you can’t help but say that is a miracle and God was here protecting us.”
Logan was speaking from the Baptist university’s ravaged campus. With her was her boyfriend, Danny Song, a resident adviser who had been trapped in his dorm for two hours before rescuers were able to extricate him from the rubble left by Tuesday night’s ferocious EF4 tornado, which came with winds of 166-200 mph.
Song’s life was saved when he fell and a couch blew up against him, protecting him from a concrete ceiling slab that fell on top of him and the couch. During the chaos, he was pinned in a kneeling position with his head pressed to the floor.
“I was joking with my friend that God put me in a place to pray. I was kneeling down,” said Song, who was treated in a local hospital and released and showed no signs of injury on Thursday.
Published news stories reported that the students’ had been trained to take refuge in bathrooms, and that’s what saved their lives. But Logan and Song both said there are so many tornado warnings in Jackson that they didn’t take them seriously until the storm was almost on them.
“We were watching the news, trying to figure out where this tornado was coming from,” Song told Vieira. “It’s tornado alley here, we get hit all the time. I figured it’s just like the others and this one will just pass by and nothing will happen. They kept giving us warnings on TV — this one’s pretty bad, you’ve got to take cover and get to safety now. We didn’t listen.”
Song took the warnings more seriously when two students ran into the building yelling, “We’ve got to take cover now!” Song looked outside, and, he said, “We could see the funnel forming probably 25 feet from where we were standing. We didn’t have any time. We started running inside and then the door swung open. One of our guys ran back to close the door. I remember just turning around to watch him do that, and that’s when the windows just exploded. All the glass just shattered. It was like a movie.”
Song hit the ground then, felt the couch hit him and then debris fall on top of him. Video shot on Wednesday showed the heavy concrete slab resting on the couch, leaving what Song called a cocoon of protection.
“That couch was really like the wedge that held up a concrete slab that would have completely squished me,” he said.
Logan, like Song, didn’t take the first warnings seriously. “They had evacuated the upstairs dorms into the downstairs dorms,” she said. “I lived downstairs, so there were nine of us in our room. We were just kind of hanging out, goofing around. Some of us didn’t know each other very well. We were just making small talk.”
As they talked, the women watched out the dorm windows. “I went up to the window and I was up against the window, and I said, ‘Oh, my goodness, I think the wind is going to knock that fence over,’ ” Logan said, her eyes growing wide as she talked. “As soon as I said that, we felt this horrible pressure in our ears, and the power went out, and somebody just screamed, ‘Go for the bathroom! Go for the bathroom’ ”
The storm was on them before they could get there.
“We all ran toward the bathroom,” she said. “None of us really made it, but we made it into this kind of cove area. I only made it as far as the closest doorway. I was holding on to the door frame. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, my goodness, this is going to suck me out.’ ”
The women began praying, she said: “We were just crying out. All of us were praying. After the tornado hit, we all prayed together because we didn’t know if another tornado was going to hit. We were reciting Scripture.”
Logan got some shards of glass in her feet, but didn’t require hospitalization. She had heard that her boyfriend had been trapped and spent several anxious hours before learning he was OK.
Song said he lost feeling in his legs during the two hours it took for rescuers to dig him out, but he suffered no serious injuries.
“Considering a building fell on top of me, I feel great,” he told Vieira. “It blows my mind. If I were in any other position than I was, I would have been badly injured.”
Classes at the university have been canceled at least until Feb. 18 while the debris is cleared and new housing is found for the displaced students. Officials estimated damage to the campus at as much as $30 million.