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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Storm at Shaw University on April 16

It occurred to me that some of you may have heard about the tornadoes that swept across parts of the Midwest, South, and Southeast in the past two weeks, and particularly about a tornado that hit Raleigh and Shaw University's campus.  I was present and teaching on campus during that storm, so I am posting the report I gave to my dean about the events of that afternoon.

Hello, Dr. Grady, 

As you requested, I am sending you a narrative of the events of yesterday afternoon on the Shaw campus.  Around 1:30 pm, a student spoke with me about the anticipated storm and its effect on our schedule for divinity classes.  I told him my opinion, which was that we would be safer in the building than we would be out in our cars if a dangerous storm did hit.  I went online to WRAL and checked the live radar reports on the storm.  It was still in the Winston-Salem area at the time and not anticipated to arrive very soon. 

After meeting with a student until about 2:30 pm, I went to meet my class in room 302 of Leonard Hall.  I noted to the students that the attendance was low, and they responded that some students had stayed away because of the predicted storm.  I repeated my opinion that we would be safer in the building tan out in our cars.  We checked the radar, which I projected onto the wall.  It showed storms which would arrive in our area in the next hour or so.  Then we proceeded with class. 

With occasional checks out the window, we proceeded with classes.  Apparently, at least two other classes were meeting in the building.  Sometime near 4:00 pm, we noticed the storm becoming much more intense outside.  Within a brief period, several things happened to alert us.  A student received a phone call from his wife, reporting that the TV weather report was placing a serious storm approaching downtown Raleigh.  Another student whose laptop was online received a weather alert about severe weather approaching downtown Raleigh.  And I noticed that the scene outside the window had become a blur with objects moving horizontally and none of the usual buildings, trees, parking lot, etc., visible. 

I advised the students to come out of the classroom into the hallway between the classrooms.  About that time the electricity went out in the building.  I closed every classroom door so that there would be no direct line to a window from which flying glass might approach us.  Some students asked whether we should move to the central staircase.  Certainly, a lower floor would be better, but passage to the staircase would require moving into the hallway between the restrooms and the main building, and I thought passing through there would be unsafe.  I urged students into the short hallway of the classroom wing, and we waited while the building shook violently for some time. 

When the intense storm had passed, and light began to come from windows around the building again, we reentered the classroom.  The outer window had bowed inward but not broken.  Water and debris had entered the room, getting all over Michelle Outlaw's books, computer (a closed laptop that seemed to only get wet on the surface), papers, and bags.  Otherwise, the room was in the same condition as before.  There were no broken windows on the third floor.   Cornelius Atkinson checked the restroom and told me that there was considerable water damage in the men's room.  I later went to check and found that light was coming through from above the false ceiling and some ceiling tiles were broken or damaged.  The women's room also had damaged ceiling tiles. 

Students milled around, talked with one another, and made phone calls for a few minutes.  We had a prayer of thanksgiving led by Horace Mason, and then we began making our way out.  I looked around the building.  In the Lewis Lecture Hall, at least one window had bowed under pressure sending water and debris into the room.  Overall, no damage was visible there.  I did not check the second floor, although other classes may have been meeting there.  I checked all the Wiggins Library windows, and no water had come in through them.  I saw Dr. Greaux also scouting the building before he left. 

A number of students, Mrs. Goldston, and Dr. Brock continued to assist one another and check out conditions in the building and parking lot.  Dr. Walker-Barnes, her husband, and her son were in their car as the storm approached, and they drove to the Leonard Building for shelter.  Students went outside to find that their cars had been damaged by broken trees and flying debris.  Claudia Cofield had a very large dent in the driver's side of her car from a fallen tree.  Cornelius Anderson had a broken window.  James Collins had the rear hatch of his vehicle pulled open by the storm.  Other students had windows broken.  My raggedy old 1989 Corolla was untouched. 

A tree was blocking the entrance to the Leonard parking lot, so people had to drive over the curb and grass to exit to the road.  Some of us attempted to pull the tree out of the way, but it was intent on staying where it was.  Two oil tanks were pushed over by the wind.  Between the two doors at the end of the Duplex building there is a tank painted silver.  It was lying on its side.  As best I could tell, it is not currently in use and likely had no fuel in it.   Around the back of the Duplex another oil tank painted brick red had been knocked down and pulled around the AC unit and the back porch until it reached the limit of its fuel line going to the furnace.  I sniffed around and smelled a faint whiff of oil when I got right next to the fuel line.  I could see no obvious leak at any of the joints, valves, or pressure points. 

I attempted to report the roof leak and the oil tank to security numerous times, but the power outages prevented my getting through to them.  Sometime after 4:30 pm I left to return home.  A few students were working together to tape up their car windows.  Dr. Brock, showing his pastoral heart, was doing his best to take care of everyone that he could.  Mrs. Goldston was also still in the building.   

You spoke with me around 5:00 pm as I was driving home, and you took an oral report on these events.  At that time I brought these two matters of the roof and oil tank to your attention.  I have seen reports of the Fire Department inspecting the Shaw campus today, so these matters should be inventoried and resolved soon.  It still may be advisable for you to forward this information to persons in charge on campus. 

After seeing the damage to the cars outside, I was glad that I had advised students to stay in the building rather than risk driving through the storm.  Of course, none of us could have predicted that Shaw's buildings would be right in the path of such an intense storm.  Even so, all who were in the building were safe with no injuries. 

Submitted respectfully, 

Mike Broadway 

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