During move-in day for upper classmen residing on-campus, many found themselves caught in the rain as they carried their belongings from their car to their residence hall. First-year and transfer students continued Orientation, walking in the rain to buildings for their next sessions.
Saturday, Aug. 27, West Chester University students would face the affects of Hurricane Irene. Knowing the hurricane would occur during move-in weekend, WCU housing staff advised students, via e-mail, to move into their residences early morning. The last weekend in Aug. had been a common weekend selected by universities to have students move into their on-campus residence halls as classes were scheduled to begin Monday, Aug. 29. “In preparation for Hurricane Irene, University Administration and representatives from Public Safety, Facilities, Residence Life and Housing, Dining Services, Academic Affairs, University Student Housing, and Public Relations, met to finalize plans for how the university would respond to the potential effects of the storm,” Chief Michael Bicking, director of the Department of Public Safety (DPS), said.
News reports originally believed Sun, Aug 28, would be the worst of the storm. Bicking sent out e-mails to update students on emergency information, including: forecast information, information on campus services and tips to keep safe. DPS advised students to check on their neighbors for safety reasons. As the power went out, off-campus students met their neighbors at the opposite end of their flashlights. An Emergency Operations Center (EOC) had been established, to “manage campus operations during the hurricane.” “In the EOC, trained emergency management personnel from Public Safety were able to constantly monitor the progress of the hurricane as it came up the Atlantic coastline,” Bicking said. The EOC, stationed in the Peoples Building, next door to the Public Safety Dispatch Center, operated for nearly 24 hours.
“The EOC opened at 6 p.m. on Saturday evening,” Chief Bicking said, “(The EOC) remained staffed through the storm until closing at 5 p.m. on Sunday evening.” A handful of West Chester residents lost power Sunday morning, while the majority were without power since roughly 10 p.m. the night before. Students were able to call DPS to notify the police officers of leakages and power outages.
Resident Assistants (RAs) at College Arms instructed students to call DPS for other emergencies, including if, during the hurricane, a window broke. Several apartments have patio windows located in the living room.
The EOC responsibilities included, “documenting all storm related activity.” Church Street had been blocked off with several cones that were submerged under water, at the intersection of Sharpless Street. The water rose and crept into several cars parked near the intersection.
On Church Street, the street flooded high enough that it was nearly impossible to distinguish the road from the sidewalk. The lawn of Goshen Hall also had flooding extending from the street nearly to the benches outside the main entrance of the residence hall. This area is commonly known by WCU students as the Goshen Ocean, which forms during rain storms. DPS employees asked students to not walk through the flooding. RAs warned students not to play in the ‘Goshen Ocean’ for their own safety. Students were warned judicials would be given to anyone playing in the water from the Hurricane.
“EOC personnel were also responsible for communicating with emergency responders and maintenance staff who were handling floods, power outages and downed trees and wires as they occurred on campus,” Bicking said. DPS warned students of wires down, warning them to assume the wires were still live, in order to prevent injury. WCU announced early afternoon on Aug. 28, classes were to begin as scheduled for Monday morning. At the time of the announcement, the rain was lite and several off-campus students still did not have power. Many of these students would not have power for a period of 24 – 48 hours. Some reported a longer period without power.
Two thousand PECO customers of Chester County, as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer on Aug. 31, were still without power as of 10 p.m. the night before.
Several students took shelter in Sykes and the Lawrence Center on Sunday, staying dry from the rain while using outlets to charge electronics. Ramshead and Lawrence dining remained open during the hurricane.
WCU students would return to classes from Labor Day weekend to find themselves walking to classes in the rain, during the second week of the semester.
Ginger Rae Dunbar is a fifth-year student, majoring in English, with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at RD655287@wcupa.edu.