Campuses Begin Cleaning Up and Assessing Damage After Hurricane Irene

Cliff Hollis, East Carolina U.

The storm left fallen trees in its wake at East Carolina U.
August 28, 2011

As Tropical Storm Irene, downgraded from a hurricane, churned north into New England on Sunday, universities along the Eastern Seaboard that had suffered hours of buffeting winds and slashing rains on Saturday were clearing debris and assessing damages. Power outages were widespread, and many institutions reported problems like toppled trees and leaks in some buildings. But none regretted having prepared for the worst, with emergency-planning teams on many campuses getting thanks for well-tuned responses.

At East Carolina University, in Greenville, N.C., workers were removing fallen branches and uprooted trees, cleaning up water damage to some dormitory rooms, and checking out reports of other minor damage. The damage was "more than superficial, but not catastrophic," Mary Schulken, director of public affairs, said on Sunday. And even though dormitories were near capacity at the time the storm's winds lashed the area, university officials were grateful that there were no injuries. "We'd like to think that's because we worked very hard to prepare," Ms. Schulken said. "We asked students who did not have homes to go to, to stay in their dorms, and we provided activities to encourage them to stay there."

The university had to relocate about two dozen students from the upper floors of a high-rise dorm, Greene Residence Hall, she said, after a pipe broke and spilled water into their rooms. Workers were cleaning and drying the rooms on Sunday. The university was also checking out many other reports of water leaking into buildings, and dealing with standing water, particularly in areas where streams and creeks cross the campus. But the water had begun to recede on Sunday and was expected to continue draining away over the next couple of days.

The campus will remain closed on Monday, Ms. Schulken said, so repairs can continue uninterrupted by traffic, and so people who commute to the campus will not have to drive through streets in the area that are still blocked by water or debris. East Carolina will not have a dollar estimate of the damage for several days, she said. "Our assessment today looked more at what do we have to do to be open than what will it cost to repair this," she said.

Elsewhere, Old Dominion University, in Norfolk, Va., was experiencing telephone and power outages on Sunday. The university said it hoped students could move into residence halls on Tuesday and classes could begin on Wednesday, but that depended on restoring power.

As of Sunday afternoon, most of Williamsburg, Va., had no power, including the campus of the College of William & Mary, which canceled classes at least through Tuesday. Campus trees suffered considerable damage. Meanwhile, the director of William & Mary's Center for Conservation Biology, Bryan Watts, was tracking a migratory bird—a whimbrel named Chinquapin—that had earlier been fitted with a satellite transmitter and that appeared to have flown though the most dangerous part of the storm on its way from Canada to the tropics, says a news article on the college's Web site. "We really expect that Chinquapin will probably make it," said Mr. Watts, noting that the bird was in the vicinity of Caribbean islands, rather than over open ocean.

Washington College, on Maryland's Eastern Shore, reported no damage to buildings but some damage to trees. Students who were already on campus all spent Saturday night in one residence hall, which never lost power.

The Web site of St. Mary's College of Maryland remained offline Sunday evening.

In Philadelphia, there were still concerns about rising water on Sunday afternoon, as rain-swollen rivers pushed through and around the city. But the University of Pennsylvania emerged largely unscathed, according to the student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian. And Temple University reported that its main campus had weathered the storm well, and that plans were going ahead for a welcoming concert at the university's Liacouras Center on Sunday evening.

Farther north, Irene pushed through with less strength than had been feared, but still enough to down power lines and cause flooding on some campuses. Colleges advised students returning to campuses to use caution.

In New Jersey, fallen trees closed a number of roads leading to Princeton University's campus. Rowan University reported that its campuses, in Glassboro and Camden, had weathered the severe weather "remarkably well," but both campuses will remain closed on Monday. The Glassboro campus had served as an emergency shelter for some 1,200 people evacuated from the Atlantic City area over the past several days. Rowan plans to reopen both campuses on Tuesday, and classes will begin next week.

Facilities personnel at the State University of New York at Stony Brook reported no damage to buildings and only minor damage to trees on the main and Southampton campuses, both on New York's Long Island.

Long Island University will remain closed Monday.

SUNY's New Paltz campus, in a region that was heavily flooded on Sunday, reported that all students and employees who were on the campus during the storm were safe, but the university faces significant cleanup tasks. An administration building and the student center experienced basement flooding, it said, and power was shut down to several academic buildings as a precaution. Campus telephones and online services were not working. Given the uncertainty over conditions in the area and over when power and services can be restored, classes are canceled on Monday and the university asked that only essential personnel report to work.

Marist College, in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., experienced flooding in several areas, some of it caused by a water-main break off the campus. Classes remained canceled for Monday, and administrators and student leaders were meeting Sunday afternoon to further assess the situation.

Sarah Lawrence College and Quinnipiac University both experienced electrical outages overnight to parts of their campuses.

Sarah Lawrence's president, Karen R. Lawrence, said in a post-storm update on the college's Web site on Sunday that the campus, in New York's Westchester County, was still dealing with intermittent outages. "The good news is that everyone on campus is safe and secure," she wrote, giving credit to the college's crisis-planning team "for our having come through this event as intact as we have."

Quinnipiac, in Connecticut, reported on Sunday that power had been restored to a nonresidential campus and that another campus was running on generator power. Its main campus, however, never lost power.

The threat to upper New England had not passed as of Sunday evening, though. The University of Vermont warned shortly before 6 p.m. that strong winds were likely to continue for several hours, and recommended that people stay indoors because of the danger of trees falling over in the rain-soaked ground.

Lawrence Biemiller contributed to this report.