All of the school’s 510 students were accounted for by Thursday morning, but administrators and student leaders scrambled to help classmates and colleagues whose homes, apartments, cars and other property had been destroyed. The death toll from Wednesday’s tornadoes throughout Alabama and other southern states was estimated at more than 200.
“I’d say 99% of the student body is still in shock right now,” said 2L Will Booher, treasurer of the Student Bar Association. “People are gathered at the law school to get the latest information, but I think I’ve only seen one person studying today.”
The law school building sustained no damage, said Dean Kenneth Randall, but the power remained out as of noon on Thursday. Some lights and other essentials were running off auxiliary generators.
Like many of his classmates, Booher was in the law school library during the late afternoon when the tornado sirens went off. He didn’t think too much of it at the time, since there had been other recent warnings about severe weather. Administrators cleared out the library, however, and students moved into interior hallways.
Booher made his way to the law review office, where he watched a live television feed of the tornado on the Internet. “We saw the tornado drop down on the T.V., and it was coming, essentially, right toward the law school.”
He moved into a hallway, and could see debris swirling outside through a window.
“It just missed us,” Booher said. “I’ve been in tornado weather before, but I’ve never had that close of a call. I was scared.”
Footage shot from the law school that has been posted on the Internet showed a massive funnel cloud moving toward the school.
Afterward, Booher took a walk with some classmates to survey the damage, and saw massive trees uprooted and leveled buildings.
Shortly thereafter, students and administrators began organizing and finding ways to help each other. Some students stayed in the law school all night, either because their homes had been destroyed or because roads were closed to all but emergency response vehicles. Students and faculty created a list of people with space available to take in displaced classmates. On Wednesday night, Booher hosted three friends whose homes had been wrecked.
The students who remained at the law school were getting hungry by 8 p.m. The Student Bar Association decided to bring in some food.
“At first, people suggested that we just bring back a lot of chicken or something from the McDonalds — and it dawned on me that the McDonalds was gone,” Booher said.
Instead, they went to a nearby gas station and bought all they could — peanut butter crackers, Chex Mix, prepared sandwiches.
Thursday morning, students made a sandwich assembly line in the law school cafeteria to feed classmates. They also organized a clothing donation bin.
“The student body has been fantastic,” Booher said.
Despite the severity of the tornado, Randall said, things were already starting to get back to normal.
“It will take a day or two, but hopefully we’ll have things back in order soon,” he said. “We’ve kept he school open 24/7, and we’re providing food. Our faculty have offered places to stay. We’re all making the best of things.”
As for exams, they have been postponed until Monday.
Karen Sloan can be contacted at email@example.com.