College hit by tornado merits U assistance

The World Wide Web browser’s screen told a sobering story of the damage inflicted on the town of St. Peter. Ten minutes after directing the browser to the Web site of Gustavus Adolphus College in the south/central Minnesota town, the computer had still made no connection. Sunday night’s storm, which included a series of tornados that devastated several towns, knocked Gustavus off the Web. Fortunately, this week is spring break at the school, and relatively few students were around to get hurt. Had classes been in session and the dorms full, students, staff and professors probably would have died.
As it is, Gustavus administrators don’t know when or whether classes will resume. The school’s campus was ripped to shreds. The winds ripped the tops off hundreds of cars. It tore roofs off many area buildings. Some buildings directly in the tornado’s quarter-mile wide path were totaled; others only lost sides. Debris from St. Peter was scattered as far away as Apple Valley, 55 miles to the northeast. Power, phones and roads were cut. The spire on Gustavus’ chapel, the symbolic center of campus, toppled over in the storm. It’s highly unlikely that Gustavus will be ready for classes to resume next week. There’s even some chance that the campus will be closed for the rest of spring.
Governor Arne Carlson dispatched the National Guard within hours of the storm’s end and cut short his trip to Washington, D.C., to coordinate state relief. Executive agencies will spring into action in the coming days. Several hundred homeless Minnesotans will be housed, fed and put back on their feet. It might seem that others will take care of everything. Don’t be fooled. There’s work enough for us all in the storm’s aftermath. The people of St. Peter, Comfrey and Le Center need the basic survival gear to weather the next few weeks. Blankets, clothes and shoes will be in high demand. Dozens of people were hurt; area blood banks will need replenishment. To find out what you can do, call the local chapter of the American Red Cross at 871-7676.
And the University community should pay particular attention to the needs of the Gustavus community. Only time — a few days perhaps, or maybe a week — will tell just how hurt that school has been. University administrators should follow Carlson’s lead and ask Gustavus officials what we can do to help. It’s the middle of a term there; some students could be missing books, computers, equipment and other academic essentials. As soon as possible, University administrators should organize assistance to Gustavus. That could mean collecting books or donating retired computers. It could require inter-school library loans or even clean-up help like the mission dispatched a year ago to the Red River Valley. Whatever it takes, only the University administration is now in a position to coordinate efforts in a constructive manner. They should do so.
We should be ready to follow and offer whatever help we can. The University community should also take a few moments — right now, perhaps — to appreciate the mind-numbing luck of the thing. All it took to destroy Gustavus was an abnormal warming of the central Pacific, a shifting jet stream over North America and a single rotating storm cloud. It could have hit here.