JACKSON, Tenn. (AP) - Students took shelter in dormitory bathrooms as a tornado reduced the buildings to rubble around them at Union University.
At least eight people were trapped in the wreckage of shredded walls, floors and furniture until rescuers could dig them out.
Tim Ellsworth, the school's news director, said about 50 students were taken to a hospital, nine of them with injuries that were classified as serious.
The damage was caused by a storm system that hammered Tennessee from Memphis in the west and stretched east to beyond Nashville, causing multiple fatalities. More tornadoes struck Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and possibly Alabama.
Ellsworth said the school's dorms had been "reduced to piles of rubble. I know we had students huddled in the bathrooms.
"A couple of buildings have almost completely collapsed and the roof of Jennings Hall is almost completely gone," he said.
Planning for emergencies and broadcast warnings of the twisters prevented more serious injuries, university President David Dockery said at a news conference Wednesday.
"When the sirens went off the entire process went into place quickly," Dockery said. Students "were ushered into rooms, into the bathrooms, interior spaces."
The students "demonstrated who they are and I'm so proud of them," Dockery said.
"We've seen damage on this campus before but nothing that even comes close," Dockery told reporters in the televised news conference. "You see these major buildings - $20 million academic buildings - that roofs are off of them. It's hard to even think about what is in front of us in terms of rebuilding."
The small, private college is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
The violent weather struck Tennessee hours before the polls closed on Super Tuesday and continued into early Wednesday as the system headed east.
Tennessee officials reported up to 75 people were injured by the storms, most of them in the Jackson area, about 75 miles northeast of Memphis.
Jackson-Madison County General Hospital spokeswoman Jan Boud said the emergency room treated patients with serious lacerations and broken bones, but no life-threatening injuries. The other patients had minor injuries and most were released within a few hours, she said.