For many Southern Miss students, Thursday was their first opportunity to see their battered campus. Classes resumed four days after a tornado touched down on the USM campus in Hattiesburg.
Southern Miss students returned from their Mardi Gras break, stunned by what they saw.
"I was a little shocked, especially the Alumni House up front and the Performing Arts Center. There was a lot more damage than I thought," said USM senior Joshua Smith.
"My first initial thought of it was 'Wow, it's really flat!' All those beautiful oak trees and things we had out there are no longer there," said USM senior Will Stringer. "I was pretty sad, especially when it hit the front part of campus and so many real nice areas around there and so many good memories and tailgating and things like that."
"I saw the Alumni House and the state of distress that it was in. It's rather a shock," said USM freshman Josiah Holliman.
Sunday's twister caused extensive damage to six buildings on the Hattiesburg campus. The hardest hit was the Mannoni Performing Arts Center and the Performing Arts Center next door. Students spent the day trying to salvage what they can from the gutted Jazz Station.
"Most of the building is ruined. We were able to pull out all the student instruments. They were all wet, and a couple of them were damaged," said Graduate Assistant Ryan Raziano.
Because of the extent of the damage, the School of Music has canceled classes this week. On Monday, those classes will be relocated to other buildings on and off campus. Despite the disruption, students carried on as usual.
"I am very happy to have everybody back. I mean, what we have today is what makes a college campus a college campus," said USM President Dr. Rodney Bennett.
And clubs like the Secular Student Alliance continued with its bake sale.
"It's important to just keep going. You can't let something like this defeat you," said Smith.
That resilient spirit is now on display on a rock at the front of the campus. One side said "Resilience" and the other side states "Tornadoes Can't Rock Tradition." Students said by returning to school so soon after a disaster, it's a sign that their USM family will bounce back.
"I just love how the turnaround was. I mean, the sun is out for class today. It hasn't been out all week. So it's just a really good day as a student, as a golden eagle," said USM junior Alis DeJohn.
Some repairs are underway and cleanup and damage assessments are ongoing. According to IHL Commissioner Dr. Hank Bounds, restoring the USM campus is estimated to cost tens of millions of dollars.
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