Jacksonville and Jacksonville State University will commemorate a year of recovery from last spring’s tornado with nearly a week’s worth of events, such as panel discussions on safety and the psychological effects of the storm.
The tornado that hit the city March 19 destroyed homes, apartment buildings, teaching halls, cars and personal items of both JSU students and residents of Jacksonville. The storm has had lasting effects for the community and the university.
The recovery celebrations will kick off 5 p.m. Saturday at the Jacksonville Community Center, where the city will hold an event called Looking Back, Moving Forward.
“We wanted to hold a very relaxed evening, so people can come and forget their worries,” said Janis Burns, superintendent of the Jacksonville Parks and Recreation Department. “It’s important to remember how blessed we are that no one was killed in the tornado.”
The event is free, according to Burns, and will include a hot dog dinner, a live band and a presentation on the events of the tornado and the recovery process.
“Some are still recovering from the tornado,” she said. “We just wanted to give everyone an evening of fun.”
Jacksonville State University will continue the citywide observance with four events of its own, including a visit Monday afternoon from television meteorologist James Spann.
“If you look back on March 19, standing in the rubble, you can’t fathom how things will get back to the way they were ... but we just rolled our sleeves up and got to work,” said JSU spokeswoman Buffy Lockette.
One of the first issues JSU had to tackle was where some students would live following the loss of their homes and belongings. Officials repurposed space in academic buildings, the University Police Department and unused living areas of some dormitories and apartment buildings.
Many students remember how the storm affected them and their friends.
“I wasn’t able to get in my apartment for weeks,” said Courtney Hood, a JSU student and a resident of the Gamecock Village apartments, which were heavily damaged.
Hood said some buildings weren’t accessible in the storm’s wake, and some students had to move to on-campus dorms.
The school also had to rearrange class meeting locations due to the damage to some buildings, including Merrill Hall, which was deemed unsalvageable.
Lockette praised students’ resilience and understanding of the school’s recovery efforts. “I was talking to my colleague about this after the storm — we didn’t see anything on social media about students complaining,” said Lockette. “They just rolled with the punches.”
Lockette said she’s proud of the success that the university has made in a year.
“Faith is taking the next step when you can’t see the whole staircase,” she said. “We’ve reached the top of that staircase and now we’re just heading back down.”