WEB UPDATE: Flooding in three buildings prompts evacuations into frigid weather

Posted Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2:27 a.m.

The recent onslaught of below-freezing temperatures dealt a heavy blow to campus water pipes Tuesday afternoon.

Flooding in three separate buildings ensued after pipes ruptured in the Marvin Center, the hospital and the Law School, prompting evacuations into weather in the mid-20s. Flooding in the Marvin Center was so severe that EMeRG – the student-run Emergency Medical Response Group – had to relocate their base of operations to a nearby residence hall, according to the University.

A leak on the ground floor of the Marvin Center in the late afternoon triggered a 30-minute evacuation from the building, said Matt Lindsay, assistant director of Media Relations. He said freezing in the pipe system was likely to blame for the incident and that the University is assessing the extent of the water damage.

Pools of water in the building and plumes of smoke or steam were visible from H Street.

EMeRG carried water-drenched equipment and supplies out of the building, as they prepared to move its command center to Crawford Hall. Harland Westgate, the spokesperson for EMeRG and a student at the Law School, declined to comment.

A sprinkler pipe in the overhang for GW Hospital’s main entrance near the Metro station ruptured mid-afternoon on the same day, resulting in cascades of water flowing from light fixtures and down the sides of the building.

Hospital employees wearing yellow rain slicks and hardhats used ladders to access the busted pipe as water poured on them. Other workers quickly mopped up indoor flooding with towels, while others poured salt on the standing water to prevent ice from forming.

The break in the outdoor pipe was likely the result of the low temperatures in recent days, said GW Hospital C.E.O. Richard Becker. He added that no one was hurt because of the rapid response of maintenance personnel to contain the water.

“The guy shut the water to the sprinklers off and got control of it pretty quickly,” Becker said.

Becker said the flooding only affected the ground-floor lobby with minor seepage that was easily mopped up with towels. He said there were no delays or complications to the building’s operations.

Nasir Shahid, a vendor that sells seasonal outerwear and souvenirs in front of the Foggy Bottom Metro, witnessed the flood.

“I looked up and all of a sudden water was coming out,” he said. “It just kept coming out.”

The GW Law School, which includes Lerner Hall and the Jacob Burns Library, was evacuated due to flooding on the second floor of the complex early evening Tuesday.

Facilities Management took more than 30 minutes to respond to the third on-campus flooding incident. All law school classes were officially canceled at about 7:00 p.m., at which point University Police officers allowed students to reenter the building to retrieve property from lockers in the basement.

Law school student Elizabeth Poole said she was studying administrative law on the third floor of the Law School’s library when the fire alarm sounded. She said there was no flooding in the area of the building she was in.

Adjunct law professor David Jonas said he was unsure of what to do with his class after evacuating.

“I was kind of assuming it would be a few minutes as these things usually are,” he said. Jonas, who works as general counsel for the National Nuclear Security Administration, said he was lecturing his class on nuclear nonproliferation when the alarm sounded.

For the hour between the building’s evacuation and the official announcement of canceled classes, law students waited outside in the frigid temperatures in case their classes would resume.

“Undergraduates would be using the five-minute rule,” law student Eric Jeschke joked of how long students would wait before leaving. “I’d say the typical law student is type-A enough to stay out here for a good half-an-hour to 45 minutes.”

The Weather Channel’s Web site reported temperatures in Foggy Bottom in the mid-20s, with a wind chill near 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The bitterly cold weather, which began Monday, is expected to continue throughout the week.

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