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In The Dark: St. Peter’s Goes into Emergency Mode After Sandy Strikes

Many students punched the air when they first saw that red bar appear on the Saint Peter’s homepage, telling them that school had been cancelled for the next two days. Hurricane parties cropped up across campus, and students slept in the next morning, happy to watch the wind and rain from their warm dorm rooms or head home to spend the free days with their families.

But the spirit changed drastically on Monday evening, when the power suddenly cut out. Screams could be heard across West and East Campus as students lost lights, heating, hot water, and the ability to cook.

“As soon as the lights went out, we went to sleep and the next day we went to go get candles, tea lights, and bundled up with blankets, a lot of clothes,” said Christopher Ware, a junior and resident of Veteran’s Memorial Court.

Deans Carla Tharp and Anthony Skevakis, working in the office of Student Life, immediately began planning for the emergency. Their priorities, said Skevakis, were “food preservation and giving accurate info to students.” They called in Residence Life staffers Omar Mahmoud, Khalif Jackson, and Roneisha McCathern to first remove perishable items from the convenience store in the Pavonia Room and then organize the Resident Assistants.

“The RAs became Res Life and Sodexho,” Mahmoud said, adding that they were basically “on call for eight days straight.”

Glenwood Avenue in the dark shot from Murray Hall. Photo Credit – Dylan Smith.

John Mas, a senior and RA in Saint Peter’s Hall, laid out the schedule he and his coworkers worked through in the blackout. “We woke up, served breakfast at 11, distributed food again at 4, locked down campus at 7, which meant that the front doors had to be locked on East and West Campus. We stayed with up-the-hill residents from 7pm to 8am.”

Lyanna Rodriguez, a junior and RA in Whelan, added, “We stayed awake till 2 a.m.”

Residents up the hill, despite the lack of power, played ping-pong in Millenium’s basement, participated in indoor trick-or-treating, and were comforted by the distribution of hot cocoa and cider delivered from Sodexho services at Fordham University and Ramapo College.

However, spirits were not as high down the hill.

“I don’t think our RA was here, she never knocked on our door,” said Jerah Degrandez, a sophomore and resident of Vets. She also noted that due to a lack of hot water, she had to walk up the hill to take a shower.

“We started to worry after the fifth day, when the temperature dipped into the forties,” Ware added. “Some emails said they were giving out blankets. Pfft. There were no blankets.”

Hannah Charles, a junior and resident of Durant Hall, agrees. “Down the hill was a war zone,” she said, adding that she heard fire extinguisher fights in addition to residents screaming.

The students’ narratives conflict with that told by Art Youmans, director of Campus Safety. “The students were phenomenal,” he said. “They took it seriously, they took advice. They lived by policy and lived by city’s rules. They really managed this mess.”

Skevakis agrees. “It was a good community effort. We got to really see the soul of people.”

However, some students feel that the efforts were simply not great enough to help. “The food . . . was there which I’m grateful for, but you know, it still wasn’t enough. You know?” said Ware. “I know they tried.”

Distributing information proved as much a challenge as distributing food. “We had no email, no cell phones,” said Mahmoud, “only pen, paper, and word of mouth.” Hand-written posters telling of mealtimes and the curfew they had to enforce appeared on campus two days after the storm.

“The curfew was helpful security wise,” said Ware, “But we couldn’t go anywhere. We wanted to see what else was open.”

At the same time the curfew went into effect, Student Life and Campus safety began urging students to go home if it was safe and possible.

“When I went home,” said Degrandez, “I almost cried, because my mom’s stove — like, she was just cooking.”

Ware was one of few students who did not take the administration’s advice to go home during the emergency. “I personally didn’t go back home because I wanted to stay with my best friend,” he said. “He had connections with some people of Campus Ministry and Dr. [Alex] Mirescu, the poli sci professor. He opened his home for us to take hot showers, have a hot meal, charge our phones, laptops, and just chill and watch a movie. He restored our morale, really.”

What seems to have carried the students through was not only efforts of the administration, by those individuals Skevakis calls “superstars” of the emergency. Besides professors opening their homes, Campus Ministry hosting daily mass for community, and the cleaning staff who came to work through the blackout, the women’s volleyball team and the men’s basketball team also deserve credit for helping put beds in Saint Peter’s Hall for stranded commuter students and faculty.

In the wake of the hurricane, the office of Student Life and Development has assembled a support system in Roy Irving Theater, with services available from the Center for Personal Development, Health Services, Campus Ministry, and Residence Life.

One thing that remains undisputed is a point made by Mahmoud:“If we had electricity, it would have been amazing.”

 

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