Friday, April 2, 2010

Flashback Fridays

Twelve years ago this week, I was a sophomore in college at Gustavus Adolphus. We had just started our spring break. I was at home with my parents and the phone rang. It was a friend of my Mom's and the first thing she asked was "Is Sara home?" Not a typical first thing for my Mom's friend to ask. Her friend went on to tell her that St. Peter had been hit by an F3 tornado. It was on the ground for only two minutes, but the campus had taken a direct hit and sustained heavy damage.

We were on spring break, so I knew my friends were okay, but I didn't know about my professors. I didn't know the condition of the school or my belongings. It was all surreal at first. We weren't allowed back for three weeks, so it was hard to imagine.

We soon learned that 80 percent of the windows on campus were shattered and more than 2,000 mature trees were uprooted, the Chapel spire was snapped in half and most buildings sustained damage. The eternal flame was still burning in the Chapel though, despite every window being broken.

It wasn't until I arrived back in town when it really hit me. When I saw it with my own eyes. It was shocking. It was awful. The drive up the hill on College Avenue is usually so beautiful, seeing Old Main appear amongst the trees, but this view was changed forever.

Damage to buildings and things can be fixed and fortunately, no deaths or serious injuries were sustained on campus because all the students were on spring break. But one little boy lost his life and 19 others sustained injuries from this tornado. For that little boy's family and for those who were injured, this can't be fixed and this will be with them always.

The city of St. Peter, which is a beautiful little city of century old homes, was devastated. Five hundred homes were destroyed and 1700 were damaged. Gustavus sits on top of a hill and I remember the view was drastically changed after the storm. I could actually see the town. There were no trees obstructing my view.

I don't remember when I found this out, but my dorm room was facing the valley side of town, not the center of campus, and my room did not sustain any damage. Many of my classmates lost everything. Some professors did too and yet they did all they could to get the school open again, so we could return. I had feelings of guilt because my home had been spared, when so much had been taken from so many, my life had been spared, when a little boy's hadn't.

Tornadoes are so vicious and unpredictable. Whenever I talk about this with family and friends, inevitably we say thank God students weren't there. It's hard to reconcile that with those who lost their life, who were injured and who lost their entire homes.

The rebuilding on campus was swift and coordinated. The President of the college created a campaign, "Rebuilding a Greater Gustavus." The faculty and staff were amazing. They were committed to bringing us back and finishing the year.

There were many hours of clean up. Some classes were held in FEMA trailers and it was a difficult reentry. The beauty of campus took longer to rebuild. But the campus is made up of its people and we rallied. This was our home, our community, and we made it so again with hard work, faith, and the great Gustie spirit. There's nothing like it.

You can see more pictures of before and after here.

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