University copes with storm damage

By on September 22, 2008

By Dennis O’Neil

Jessica Amin has had to resort to strange survival tactics in a week without power. The senior child psychology major found herself volunteering in Anne Northup’s campaign office on Wednesday for Internet access in order to finish a biology paper.
“Literally every single person I knew didn’t have power,” Amin said. “I had to come into the office to volunteer because even the two libraries by my house were without power.”
Amin’s story is just one of many strange ones to unfold after a windstorm on Sun., Sept. 14 swept through Louisville leaving close to 300,000 citizens without power and leveling the city with debris. In the days that followed, many University of Louisville students found themselves scrambling to survive life without electricity by any means necessary.
For Student Government Association President Rudy Spencer, the past week has been a series of short stays with friends who still have electricity and then many long treks back to campus from their distant homes.
“I’m from Louisville, so I thought that I would stay with my mom or some other relatives,” Spencer said, “and still none of them have any power. It has been pretty rough. I’ve just been moving from house to house this week.”
Spencer still considers himself fortunate though. He said he had encountered some U of L students who have had to throw out their food because of a lack of electricity and had to apply for emergency food stamps as a result.
“Some people who live off campus just don’t have the money to eatTaco Bell or McDonalds for the whole week,” Spencer said. “For some people this has just been a little inconvenience, but the impact of no electricity didn’t hit me until I met those people.”
Many students also found themselves inconvenienced by the university’s decision to hold regular classes on Monday, even though local colleges such as Bellarmine and Spalding decided to close.
According to U of L spokesman John Drees, this was because the university never lost electricity and the administration thought it should remain open as long as it physically could. 
The university did begin a delayed schedule on Monday evening though, dismissing classes at 7 p.m. and not resuming them until 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning. The same schedule was repeated on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning. The university returned to its regular schedule on Wednesday afternoon.
Drees said the decision for the delayed schedule was out of consideration for students’ safety.
“We didn’t want students to be on the roadways after dark or in the early morning since many lights and traffic signals were still down in places,” Drees said.
Some students have expressed irritation about the university’s decision, saying that it inconvenienced them in the face of other concerns.
“I didn’t have power until Wednesday and it was frustrating that U of L had regular class on Monday,” said senior biology major Warren Stephens. “I don’t think they were really looking out for the best interest of students and faculty when they made this decision.”
Spencer said he understood students’ frustration about the scheduling decision. 
“Granted, the university was operating, but the whole city was pretty much shut down,” Spencer said. “There were just so many different pressures operating on students that, and it is terrible to say, school becomes kind of a low priority.”
Pressure also fell upon the shoulders of the Physical Plant staff which, according to Director of Facilities Larry Detherage, immediately went to work to clear the campus of debris. Detherage said it would cost between $200,000 and $250,000 to repair the storm damages on Belknap, Shelby and Health Sciences campuses.
Detherage said the storm caused severe roof damage to 10-15 buildings, citing the J.B. Speed building and Grawmeyer Hall as examples. The worst case was that of Humana Gym in the Student Activities Center, where part of the roof was removed during the storm.
Despite the damage, Detherage and Jim Slayden, assistant director of the Physical Plant, said it should be done by the end of this week. Slayden also commended his staff for their performance in the cleanup job.
“A lot of our staff came in and worked quite a bit of overtime in this situation,” Slayden said. “Pretty great considering a lot of them didn’t have power either.”
At a press conference on Friday, Gov. Steve Beshear gave a sense of how much damage the storm had done to the Commonwealth.
According to Beshear, the storm left more than 500,000 citizens without power statewide and forced 29 cities and 41 counties to declare a state of emergency.
Beshear has filed a request for a presidential disaster declaration with the federal government, calling the storm “the worst of its kind on record in Kentucky.”
Louisville Metro Mayor Jerry Abramson acknowledged the storm’s catastrophic effects, but was also grateful to the Louisville community for the support they have extended to one another throughout the ordeal.
“We are now focusing on the power of neighbors helping neighbors,” Abramson said. “I have never been more proud of Louisville’s men and women who have been reaching out to each other. We need to continue doing that.”
-Michael Kennedy and Thompson Perry contributed to this story.

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