Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Wind storm ravages campus over break

On Friday, Jan. 4, while the majority of the student body was wrapping up their last week of winter break, a windstorm struck Walla Walla that downed more than 55 trees around campus and knocked out power for 30 hours.

“Above all else, we are thankful that no one was injured,” said Whitman President George Bridges, in a statement released soon after the storm. “And it is miraculous that the physical damage was minimal. I want to thank everyone who has stepped up in response to this storm… I’m not surprised about the way the campus pulled together in response to the storm, but I could not be more proud, grateful and impressed.”

Among the students and staff present for the storm were members of the Residence Life staff, who were on a retreat in College Place. When the winds started, with gusts later reported at about 78 miles per hour, tiles on the roof of the church in which staff members were staying began flying off.

“At first I had no idea there was a storm going on,” said sophomore James Bevan-Lee, a Resident Advisor who attended the retreat. “I [went] upstairs and then the door just flew open, before I could even open it. … There were branches and everything flying down the street, it was absolutely insane.”

Bevan-Lee described the atmosphere among the Residence Life staff as the storm continued.
“Everyone was looking out the windows, and the ceiling of the church was flying off, trees were down. … We just kind of had to come together to make the best out of a bad situation. It was a good bonding experience,” he said.

Ben Wu, Residence Director of Lyman House, described the difficulty the staff faced in navigating their way back to campus after the storm.

“There were lots of trees down, so it was difficult to drive around. …The windstorm came in the morning, and I drove back to campus to pick up a few things and Boyer was completely blocked off, because there was a giant tree right in that crosswalk between Memorial and Prentiss,” he said.

Students being housed at North Hall over break experienced some power outages, but regained electricity earlier than other buildings because North is on a separate power grid.
“We ended up going to Wal-Mart and buying them flashlights and things like that to bring them [during the power outage],” said Wu.

The storm also impacted Whitman students staying near campus to participate in the Wilderness First Responder (WFR) program.

“When we were outside during the windstorm doing our practice scenarios, we thought that a tree was going to fall on someone,” said first-year and WFR participant Julia Light. “We had lots of practice scenarios where trees fell on people. One of our fellow trainees had a tree fall on their house.”

Apart from structural damages to several buildings around Walla Walla, including a few college-owned properties, power was completely shut down from Friday morning until about 10 a.m. Saturday, causing schools like Walla Walla Community College to cancel classes. A state of emergency was briefly declared for Walla Walla County after much of its population was left without power.

“I don’t think we realized the significance of the storm right away,” said Bevan-Lee. “We thought the power would be out for like an hour.”

Both Wu and Bevan-Lee expressed their gratitude that the windstorm struck before students returned to campus the following week.

“We weren’t really expecting it,” Wu said. “It was lucky that no one was around campus…just imagine not having power for like two days.”

“It would have been chaos,” Bevan-Lee said, describing the situation that might have evolved if the storm hit while school was in session.

“The thing that was actually pretty amazing was how quickly everything got cleaned up after the storm,” Wu continued. “The Physical Plant had to pretty much saw all the trees into manageable pieces and then they wood chipped some of them and they hauled off some of the log-sized ones to store. … So by the time school resumed for everyone you wouldn’t have known anything had happened except for the stumps.”

Also in his statement published on the Whitman Web site, George Bridges wrote, “Our entire physical plant crew brought their knowledge and expertise. Our admissions, registrar, business office, student life and residence life staff spent hours over the weekend getting ready for students to return. And the technology services staff brought the campus network back online very quickly after power was restored.”

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