Breaking News: GW cancels Thursday classes

Posted 8:25 p.m. The University canceled Thursday classes after Metro officials announced that bus and rail service would stop at 11 a.m. as Hurricane Isabel barrels towards D.C. University officials are bracing the campus for possible flooding and power outages and are urging students to stay indoors for the storm’s duration.

Robert Chernak, senior vice president for student and academic support services, said officials would decide whether to cancel Friday classes Thursday afternoon but that a Friday cancellation “is a strong possibility.”

“My suspicion is that it’s really going to be contingent on what’s going to be the area damage,” he said.

He said all GW dining facilities would remain open Thursday, but noted that they will be operated by a “skeletal staff.” GW libraries and the Health and Wellness Center will also be open Thursday.

While the eye of the hurricane will pass to the west of D.C., the city will see winds between 40 and 70 m.p.h. and three to six inches of rain starting Thursday night, said Jim Travers, meteorologist-in-charge of the National Weather Service’s Baltimore-Washington Weather Forecast Office.

“Don’t get too hung up on the eye of the storm because the effect of the storm will be felt hundreds of miles in either direction,” Travers said.

Travers said the storm would knock trees over and cause power outages throughout the District. He said torrential rain would cause flooding in the area, and added that rising waters from the nearby Potomac River would inundate some city streets by Friday night.

“We’re all going to share a little bit in the pain,” he said.

John Petrie, assistant vice president for public safety and emergency management, said students should stay indoors, preferably in hallways and interior rooms that are not near windows. He said while students won’t be forced to remain inside during the storm, they should heed the University’s advice.

“We’re not going to trap people,” he said. “We’re going to tell them to do things that make them safe.”

The District has distributed hundreds of sandbags to residents and is readying emergency power as the storm approaches, according to the D.C. Government Web site. D.C. maintenance crews will be working around the clock throughout the storm, clearing fallen trees and repairing down power lines.

Associate Dean of Students Michael Walker said GW would continue to provide updated information on the hurricane on the Campus Advisory page of its Web site (http://www.gwu.edu/~gwalert/). The University has sent three blast e-mails to the GW community since Monday about the hurricane.

The University’s emergency generators, which provide limited electricity to all residence halls and most academic facilities, have been tested and are ready for any potential power outages, said Walter Gray, director of facilities management.

The generators, which cannot support the use of a television or computer, provide enough electricity for a residence hall’s lighting system, said Gray, adding that most of the campus’ power lines are underground and are not susceptible to being knocked down.

Petrie said the city would quickly address any power failure at GW because the University shares the same electrical grid as the White House.

Facilities officials have inspected the University’s drainage system to check for blockages that might cause heavy rain to flood campus streets, Gray said. They are also securing loose items that could fly away, such as tables, chairs, plywood and temporary signs.

Gray said flooding is not always avoidable, especially with a storm that could produce high water levels in the Potomac.

“A lot of the time with the runoff of the sea the volume of water overwhelms the drainage system,” he said. “This situation could occur.”

Gray said facilities workers would be on call during the storm to respond to any emergencies that occur.

University Police Chief Dolores Stafford said UPD has taken measures to suspend vacation time for officers in case they are needed in an emergency, but would not discuss UPD emergency plans.

Walker said the University has received extra food shipments in case deliveries are disrupted during the storm.

“(But) depending upon where students are…they may need to use their discretion about going to J Street,” he said.

Students should be in constant contact with family members and friends, Walker said.

Courtney Prebich, media relations coordinator for the D.C. Chapter of the American Red Cross, said students should have food, water, a flashlight and a first aid kit.

She said D.C. residents should be accustomed to preparing for possible emergencies.

“People in D.C. – we’ve been it with a lot of disasters lately,” said Prebich, referring to the September 11 terrorist attacks and a snowstorm that brought the city to a standstill last February.

Some students said their parents have expressed concern for their safety.

“My mom tells me to get water and to make sure that my cell phone is charged or whatever but I mean I have food (in the room) already but that’s normal,” freshman Christina Ciak said.

Others said that the University’s emails have been helpful and informative.

“My roommate is really concerned and wants to stock up on water, batteries and flashlights,” junior Brett Gerson said. “Yeah we are getting e-mails and that’s enough.”

– Katie Rooney contributed to this report

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.