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Enduring Irene

August 29, 2011

New Yorkers can't say they weren't warned. In June, the City University of New York's Science and U! television show featured a segment on what would happen to New York City in a hurricane. The conclusion of CUNY's expert, Nicholas Coch, a professor of earth and environmental science at Queens College, was that New York City absolutely could face a strong hurricane, and that the results could be devastating.

While most people in New York City weren't paying close attention to hurricane preparedness in June, the last week saw college officials from New England through the Carolinas focusing on the path of Hurricane Irene. The storm hit the United States in the east of North Carolina -- where colleges and universities are used to dealing with hurricanes -- and extended to campuses where officials have more experience with snow removal than with the debris brought by tropical storms.

Many campuses are only starting the process of assessing damage, although some in North Carolina and Virginia that were closed Friday or Saturday were starting to reopen for business on Sunday. Many officials who were reached Sunday reported that, in some cases to their surprise, damage was less severe than they had feared. Most campuses that adjusted move-in schedules for new or returning students -- so students and families wouldn't be caught in Irene -- reported that those shifts had been successful.

At the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, officials lifted a curfew on the campus and let students return to the library, student center and other facilities. The campus is facing numerous leaks, 20 downed trees, 60 damaged trees and power outages, but plans to have classes on schedule today.

East Carolina University won't reopen until Tuesday. Mary Chauncey Schulken, a spokeswoman, said that the campus is dealing with some downed trees, leaks and the kind of damage one would expect. She said that, based on campus damage, the university would have opened today, but that many surrounding areas were hit with flooded roadways and power lines down in roads -- such that employees and students would face unsafe conditions traveling to the campus.

YouTube features video of the scene at East Carolina as Irene arrived:

At Virginia Wesleyan College (located in the Norfolk/Virginia Beach area that tends to be hit hard by hurricanes), classes due to start today will be pushed back a day, so that continuing students can move in today. Orientation started on Wednesday, with 477 freshmen. Many from the area opted to go home for the hurricane, but about 300 stayed on campus, and the college was able to provide food service and guidance during the storm.

"Amazingly, we never lost power -- just had some leaks from all the rain and a tree down across a road as a result of the wind," said Laynee H. Timlin, director of communications.

Old Dominion University has called off classes for today and tomorrow. A spokeswoman said that major damage was minimal and only a few trees were lost, but that the campus is experiencing power outages and difficulty with its phone system. Tidewater Community College will also be closed today, although officials are hopeful that early (minimal) damage reports will hold up.

Linda Thomas-Glover, president of Eastern Shore Community College, in Virginia, said that Irene tracked slightly more to the east than originally expected, minimizing damage on her campus to a few downed tree limbs and minor water damage to one building. The campus was able to serve as a base of operations for the National Guard.

Chesapeake College, a community college on Maryland's Eastern Shore, is still assessing damage. Barbara Viniar, the president, said that power was lost, activating generators that will last for two days, and that some facilities sustained major water damage. Wesley College, in Delaware, is reporting minimal damage, with classes set to resume Tuesday.

Ursinus College, west of Philadelphia, has not had serious damage but has lost power. The college organized buses to take students to a local movie theater Sunday night, and classes are planned on schedule today.

Further north, Brookdale Community College, in New Jersey, and such Long Island institutions as the State University of New York at Stony Brook and Hofstra University, were all reporting only minor damage. At SUNY New Paltz, flooding took out servers, shutting down phones, the web and e-mail -- but the university was deploying an alternative server from Buffalo.

City University of New York campuses are not reporting any major damage, but the main question for the system's students is the full restoration of public transportation in New York City, since most CUNY students get to campus on the bus or subway. As of Sunday, CUNY campuses were also serving as shelters for 3,000 people.

The University of Connecticut lost power on about half of its campus, and called off classes for tomorrow, largely as a precaution. The University of New Hampshire and the University of Vermont will also be closed today.

While Washington escaped the worst of Irene, the hurricane disrupted plans for Sunday's dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial -- an event that had many students and educators traveling to D.C. Three students from South Carolina State University who traveled to Washington to film a documentary about the memorial went ahead with their plans, even without the official program.

M. Christopher Brown II, president of Alcorn State University, was in Washington as national chair of Alphas in the Academy, a group of educators who are alumni of Alpha Phi Alpha, King's fraternity and a major force in fund-raising for the memorial. Brown brought 10 students along, and they were able to see the memorial, even though Sunday's events were postponed.

Some students at campuses hit by Irene, of course, found ways to have fun. Here's a YouTube video of a student from Old Dominion, who took advantage of soggy grounds to go skimboarding.

And a new student at New York University expressed her anger at Irene -- for delaying her move-in at NYU -- by composing a song for this video (after a few false starts, she does get to her song):

 

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