Tornadoes devastate Midwest: Union students aid in hometown clean-up, relief

Residents of Harrisburg, Ill., sit on a rooftop torn from an apartment building March 2, after a tornado tore through their town. The storm hit the area Feb. 29, destroying homes and businesses. | Photo by Kayla Oxford

By Courtney Searcy, Online Editor

When a tornado tore through the small town of Harrisburg, Ill., Feb. 29, four Union students woke up to the news that their hometown had been devastated.

While their daughters were sound asleep in Jackson, the Welborn family was just rising for the day when the tornado hit just before 5 a.m.

The tornado ripped the roof off their home, blew in the windows and turned the garage on its side. The family was unharmed, despite the uninhabitable state of their home.

A few hundred miles away, Cassie Welborn Robbers, sophomore art major, and Emily Welborn, senior social work major, woke up to a text message: “We’re fine. Love you.”

After Robbers heard the news, she woke up her roommate Kayla Oxford, a sophomore journalism major also from Harrisburg. Oxford said she was not too concerned at first — she remembered previous storms blowing through her town and leaving behind minimal damage.

Oxford logged onto Facebook, and over the course of the next few hours realized the disaster was much worse than she originally thought. Six people died in the storms. They were family friends, classmates and members of her community.

The next day, Oxford and Robbers traveled home to see the damage and participate in relief efforts. Caleb Thompson, freshman Biblical studies major from Harrisburg, also went home to participate in his church’s disaster relief efforts.

“It broke your heart at first, but at the same time, I look forward to the opportunity to serve others and share the Gospel,” Thompson said. “They were very brokenhearted, but also open to a message of hope.”

Robbers said she was thankful her family members’ lives were spared.

“It was scary, especially seeing the house that my parents were in,” Robbers said. “It was a reality check that every day is a gift.”

Both Oxford and Robbers gave blood and served food to tornado survivors and volunteers.

“It was amazing to be able to love on people and pray for them and let them know that they’re not alone,” Robbers said.

Tornadoes also hit other cities across the country Feb. 29 and the following weekend, and relief efforts are ongoing.

“My community wasn’t the only one affected,” Robbers said. “(Students should) be constantly aware that there is always someone in need, not only when there is a disaster.”

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.