Tropical storm Irene inflicts local damages

On Aug. 28, tropical storm Irene hit Williamstown, causing flooding, power outages and property damage throughout Berkshire County and southern Vermont. The College suffered minimal structural damage despite significant concern among administrators. However, there were significant damages within the area for which the College will launch relief effort this month.

Irene, which passed through the Caribbean as a Category 3 hurricane, first made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane on Aug. 27. The storm then tracked north along the eastern seaboard and made landfall twice more before being downgraded to a tropical storm and moving north, ravaging New York and New England.

According to Steve Klass, vice president for campus life, the College enacted its “Emergency Preparedness Plan” several days before the storm’s impact. On Aug. 25, Klass and other administrators met so that their respective staffs could receive real-time updates on the timing and predicted severity of the storm. Administrators also held conference calls with members of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

Staff from key campus departments  assisted students who had recently arrived on campus as well as those whose travel plans had been affected by the storm. Among the many accommodations made, Klass reported that all Dining Services responsibilities were relocated to Driscoll. Housing coordinators from the Office of Student Life worked to streamline the arrival process for students arriving on campus. Construction sites on campus, particularly the Stetson-Sawyer Library project, were also battened down by the College’s construction management firm; Facilities and Security staff monitored the other buildings on campus.

The campus felt the brunt of the storm’s impact as extensive rainfall caused a 90-minute power outage around 6 p.m. on Aug. 28. According to Klass, glow sticks were distributed to building residents, though power was restored before an evacuation became necessary. Students would have been relocated to the Field House had dormitories been evacuated.

Flooding in the capital region of New York and southwestern Vermont was extensive. Bridges and roadways in Troy, N.Y. were devastated as the incessant rain was compounded by water flowing down from the Catskills. Bennington, Vt. suffered similar damages. and many of the area’s historic bridges were washed away.

According to Ian Nesbitt ’13, the flooding in Williamstown was extensive. “I took a video while on the baseball field,” Nesbitt said. “The field was saturated with water and air bubbles were coming up from the ground. A few hours later, there was eight feet of water on the field.” Students reported seeing a senior student kayaking across Cole Field. A blockage in a local stream also flooded Latham Street and water flowing across the road caused authorities to briefly close a portion of Route 7.

“The College was extremely fortunate that the damage from Irene wasn’t greater,” Klass said. Early estimates of damages show $45,000 of repairs to buildings, roads, bridges and other structures. Cole Field, however, suffered damage valued at $375,000. The field requires work to fix the storm-damaged fences around the fields and remove the layer of sediment left by receding floodwaters.

Damage to local buildings was extensive in some instances. The Spruces, a nearby retirement community, was devastated by the storm, necessitating a response by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. On Monday, College Council Co-President Nick Fogel ’12 sent a campus-wide e-mail requesting students to show their support by volunteering to help with clean-up and attending fundraising events. Fogel and other student leaders will announce more definitive plans for these events in the coming weeks.