Hurricane threat cancels classes

The University canceled Thursday classes because Metro officials announced that bus and rail service would stop at 11 a.m. as Hurricane Isabel barrels toward D.C. University officials are readying 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 said 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.

With Metro closing Thursday morning, the University didn’t want students and faculty living outside Foggy Bottom to be stuck on campus, Chernak 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, but all University events, including athletic events, are canceled.

Shortly after officials announced the cancellation of classes at 9:30 p.m., students yelled out of residence hall windows and packed Provisions, forming a line that snaked through the store. Students waited patiently in line and were more excited about school closing than nervous about the approach of the hurricane.

“I don’t see any signs of a hurricane so I don’t see what all the hype’s about yet, but I’m expecting some fun times this weekend,” sophomore Melissa Welesko said. “I’m getting some good videos and I’m looking forward to a good slumber party.”

“I think it’s kind of silly because we don’t even know what’s going to happen yet,” freshman Lauren Christopher said.

University Police Chief Dolores Stafford said the Mount Vernon Shuttle would run until at least 11 a.m. Thursday and would continue to run until weather conditions deteriorate or city officials give orders to stop running the buses.

“It depends on the conditions,” she said. “Obviously if the storm hasn’t started to hit, we’ll continue to run until the storm gets here.”

“We’re encouraging students to stay at the campus they reside at, if possible,” said Stafford, who added that shuttle service would resume when the storm passes and conditions improve.

While the eye of the hurricane will pass to the west of D.C., the city will see winds between 40 and 70 mph 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.

He said the storm will probably knock over trees 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. 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 at ~gwalert/. The University has sent four 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 televisions or computers, 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 power failures at GW because the University shares the same electrical grid as zthe State Department and 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 happen.

Stafford said UPD has taken measures to suspend vacation time for officers in case they are needed in an emergency and that officers would respond to emergencies as necessary.

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 closed GW for two days last February.

– Katie Rooney contributed to this report

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