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Across Penn’s campus Monday night, many of the lights flickered but managed to stay on as gusts of wind nearly 70 miles per hour howled outside.
Though Hurricane Sandy put a halt to classes and operations at Penn over the past two days, University officials acknowledged that the storm — which caused massive power outages, flooding and at least 48 deaths up and down the Eastern Seaboard — largely spared the campus community.
“When you look at all the devastation around us, whether it’s the Jersey Shore or New York City, I think we’re incredibly fortunate,” Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli said. “I’d consider Penn lucky.”
Beginning Monday night and carrying over into the early hours of Tuesday morning, facilities crews were on hand to respond to reports of downed trees, damage to buildings and other impacts of Sandy on campus.
According to Vice President for Facilities and Real Estate Services Anne Papageorge, some of the most significant on-campus damage came at the Law School’s Golkin Hall, where a piece of metal that was protecting a section of the roof fell off. Executive Director of Operations and Maintenance Ken Ogawa added that FRES also responded to a broken window at the Richards Medical Research Laboratories on Hamilton Walk.
There were also several downed trees around campus, Papageorge added, including one on Walnut Street in front of President Amy Gutmann’s house.
“The good news is that we did not lose power and did not have flooding, and in the past couple of storms, those were the two most significant issues,” Papageorge said.
There were, however, a few reported incidents of damage at off-campus apartments and houses.
At about 3:30 p.m. Monday, College and Wharton sophomore Donna Hahn noticed a leak in the ceiling of her second-floor bedroom in her house on 42nd Street between Spruce and Pine streets. The tile ceiling began to crack and water began to trickle into the room even faster about an hour later.
“I thought my roof was about to fall in,” she said. “There was a lot of pressure on the ceiling, but we couldn’t figure out where it was coming from.”
Hahn and her roommates placed several buckets beneath the dripping water, and poked a hole in the ceiling so that the water could all rush out from one area. The leak stopped later that evening.
For three days before the hurricane, off-campus housing companies like University City Housing made sure that all of the sewers near their off-campus properties were plugged. They also checked all yard drains, storm drains and roof outlets.
According to UCH Regional Manager Bill Groves, the company received about ten storm-related maintenance requests, ranging from basement flooding in non-occupied spaces to window and roof leaks. All of the issues were relatively minor, he added, with most of the flooding due to blown leaves and branches or air conditioning units left in windows.
Campus Apartments was also proactive in managing the storm. In addition to clearing out yard drains and removing window air conditioning units last week, the company offered residents of units with a history of water filtration issues the option of spending the storm in rooms at the Homewood Suites on Walnut Street. Seven residents accepted this offer, according to Regional Property Manager Jason Cohen.
The Division of Public Safety also played a central role during the hurricane.
Before, during and after the storm hit, DPS sent multiple UPennAlerts updating students and informing them of safe practices in case of an emergency.
While UPennAlerts have generally been used in cases of campus crime, Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush said the decision was made to use the alert system throughout the storm “in order to drive the information out quickly.”
“We’ve always looked at the UPennAlert as a tool to keep people safe,” she said. “We did go back and forth about the alerts, and agreed to use it because this was a really significant storm that could be a danger to people.”
Campus was “a ghost town” at the height of the storm, Rush said, adding that DPS responded to just two incidents Monday night — a time when some students were throwing hurricane-related parties. Both incidents were alcohol-related hospitalizations.
As Tuesday morning rolled around, life on campus and in the city began to return to normal. While an estimated 65,000 in the city were without power as of Tuesday afternoon, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Mayor Michael Nutter acknowledged in a press conference that “it could have been worse, but we came through it pretty well.”
SEPTA — which suspended service shortly after midnight on Monday — began to resume some of its subway, trolley and bus lines, with both the Market-Frankford and Broad Street lines starting regular operations again on Tuesday. Carnaroli said the SEPTA closure was a major factor that led Penn to cancel classes, since many faculty and staff use public transportation to get to work.
All regular SEPTA service will be up and running again Wednesday.
On Tuesday, the scene on Walnut and Spruce streets also began to look more familiar, as stores and restaurants like Wawa, Chipotle and Bobby’s Burger Palace started re-opening after their closures on Monday.
In the coming days, Carnaroli said, administrators will sit down for a full de-briefing on the University’s response to the hurricane.
“We’re proud to say that we have a very well-oiled machine when it comes to situations like this,” Rush added. “I think that was on display these past few days.”
Staff writer Becki Steinberg contributed reporting.
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