Sandy impacts Williams-Mystic

While the College was not hit particularly hard by Hurricane Sandy, the campus of the Williams-Mystic program, located in Mystic, Conn., felt the storm’s effects more severely.

Due to the campus’ proximity to both the Mystic River and the oceanfront, the faculty and staff at Williams-Mystic knew that Hurricane Sandy was sure to affect at least the area around Williams-Mystic, if not the campus facilities themselves.

“All of the power was out on the coast and the storm surge hit a historic high,” Associate Dean of the Faculty John Gerry said. “There was a lot of flooding in Mystic, especially during the high tides.” As the Mystic Seaport Museum and the Williams-Mystic campus are both located directly on the banks of the Mystic River and therefore were in a high-risk area, “the impact in the area used by students was immediate and intense,” Gerry explained.

“Water levels rose to the 1938 hurricane height, so that was unprecedented in the 35-year history of the program,” Director of the Williams-Mystic Program and Professor of Marine Sciences Jim Carlton said. In order to ensure safety and that campus residents would not be without power, students and faculty members moved into the James T. Carlton Marine Science Center for the duration of the storm.

“While the lights went out in town and the students had to evacuate their residences, the Carlton Marine Science Center was a haven,” Gerry said. “This building is very new, and it serves as the hurricane headquarters not just for our program but for the entire [Mystic Seaport Museum]. So [Carlton] and all of the students were warm and dry during the storm [and] well-fed with pizza, which was preemptively purchased in anticipation of the storm. The entire security force of the museum also moved their operations there.”

Carlton stated that even when the storm had cleared, many individuals stayed in the Science Center to ensure continued access to working power.

“All the students were evacuated to the science center on Monday afternoon, and then it was safe to go back out on Tuesday,” Carlton said. “The storm passed over us on Monday in two waves, and then things were fine outside, but at that point there was no power in the students’ houses, so many of them elected to stay in the Science Center.”

Despite the storm, Williams-Mystic operations were only disrupted for two days. “We only lost about two days for normal operations, in part thanks to the fact that we were in the Marine Science Center, which provided us with power when there was no power in the area until Thursday,” Carlton said. Like the rest of the area, the campus, excluding the Science Center, was without power for much of last week.

The students used Hurricane Sandy as an educational opportunity. “At a moment during the storm when the winds were low, the students were outside in their wet weather gear, surveying the flooding,” Gerry said. Damage to the Williams-Mystic campus was generally restricted to low-lying furnaces and boilers, though damage to the surrounding area was extensive, according to Carlton.

“We occupy the houses [that were built in] the 1800s, which are our student residences, and those houses were inundated by saltwater [for] the first time in our history,” Carlton said. “So that took out our furnaces and boilers in two of the student houses. The other two are on higher ground.”

Carlton stated that the boilers and furnaces are currently undergoing repair; Williams-Mystic faculty and students are currently on a field trip to the Mississippi River in Louisiana, providing an ideal time frame for repairs that were delayed due to extreme need for repairs elsewhere in the Mystic area.

“The damage along the coastline was just extensive, so all of the folks who are able to undertake furnace repairs … were just in huge demand,” Carlton explained. “It’s hard to explain the extent of damage along the coastline. It’s sort of jaw-dropping.”

Due to location of the Williams-Mystic campus, much of the bulk of Hurricane Sandy’s devastation was felt more strongly elsewhere. “We are three miles back from the coast, so we didn’t experience that wall of water and wind that really hit Western Connecticut and New York and New Jersey,” Carlton said.