Campus, city escape worst of superstorm

While Superstorm Sandy ravaged entire cities along the East Coast, Foggy Bottom and the D.C. area remained largely unscathed.

The only lasting effects of the 70 mph winds were a few toppled news stands and broken tree branches. Pumpkins and flower pots still stood on townhouse porches Tuesday morning amid light drizzles and mild gusts. Rain left the biggest impact, soaking University Yard and causing leaks in nearly a dozen residence halls.

Students reported that water seeped into halls through ceilings, windows, emergency doors, elevator shafts and electrical outlets during the steady rainfall and heavy winds Monday.

Alicia Knight, senior associate vice president for operations, declined to say which residence halls underwent repairs for water damage or the number of water-related FIXit requests GW fielded and responded to during the storm. But students posted pictures of the leaks in their halls to Twitter and Facebook, often showing trash bins and red cups collecting water, and pools of water on the floors.

“There was no significant storm-related damage on GW’s campuses, with the majority of incidents minor in nature – often related to window leaks, minor water pooling in stairwells near exterior entrances and ceiling leakage related to gutter overflow,” Knight said in an email.

She added that elevator shafts, designed to allow air ventilation, are prone to water leaks with heavy rains, but any issues in elevators were “quickly addressed.”

About 120 campus maintenance workers were on call round-the-clock and took shelter in the Support Building. Crews cleared brush – including a tree by the Metro reported to be the only felled tree in Foggy Bottom – as soon as the skies cleared Monday, leaving few branches on the ground by the time students woke up.

Knight added that the University prepared extensively for the storm, working with construction crews to minimize damage to signs, fencing and materials. The biggest issue facing work sites is now removing standing water at “several” of the construction pits around Foggy Bottom. With minimal impact to the sites, workers continued construction Wednesday.

The Vern Express, which stopped service Monday night after about 7 p.m., resumed Tuesday morning but shut down again Tuesday night around midnight. Residents of the Mount Vernon Campus lost power for several hours Monday, but students reported that electricity returned before nightfall. The Metro also restored service Tuesday afternoon, while transportation systems up the East Coast, most notably the New York City subway, will likely remain closed for the rest of the week.

The city was eerily quiet both Monday and Tuesday as the East Coast shut down, leaving the federal government closed for two days – half the time of the two-day shutdown following the 210 Snowpocalypse. Campus buildings – except for dining halls – closed for most of the storm, and Halloweekend festivities were largely confined to apartments and residence halls.

Several businesses in the area closed their doors early on Monday, fearing the menacing forecasts weather officials predicted. Convenience and grocery stores in D.C. ran out of flashlights, batteries, bottled water and some nonperishable goods as people stockpiled in preparation.

About 100,000 District residents were without power Tuesday, significantly less than during the last major storm to hit the D.C. area, Hurricane Irene.

Irene, which meteorologists called minor compared to Sandy, also largely missed GW. The hurricane on Aug. 27, 2011 knocked a tree onto Gelman Library and cancelled several University functions, but caused no long lasting damages. Bob Hainey, public relations manager for Pepco, said Tuesday’s outages were scattered around the city due to intense winds, rain and fallen trees.

Hainey said 90 percent of power was restored by Tuesday evening and 95 percent by Wednesday morning, expecting a complete restoration by Wednesday evening. He added that Pepco would donate $10,000 to the Red Cross’ relief efforts around the District.

The D.C. area’s sole power company faced backlash over a June 29 storm that knocked out power for more than 1 million people amid a 100-plus degree heat wave. Thousands of homes lost electricity for more than a week.

The main hub of activity on day two of GW’s shutdown was the American Red Cross’ national headquarters on E Street, where employees rushed to respond to the storm that clobbered New York, New Jersey and Connecticut Monday with emergency blood drives.

Storm waters ultimately did not breach the Georgetown waterfront shores, sparing businesses along the Potomac River from a reprise of the disastrous April 2011 floods that kept many restaurants closed August. The waterfront secured its floodgates Sunday.

Julie Alderman, Chloe Sorvino, Matthew Kwiecinski, Cory Weinberg and Sarah Ferris contributed to this report

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