Beach residents adjust to Sandy aftermath

Students familiar with the Mateo Sanchez, S.J., room in the Ignatius Loyola Hall will remember its tacky couches and capacity to hold no more than 50 people. Now, there are five beds, five girls, and their belongings packed into one room.

Relocated beach resident Kaitlyn Lewandowski ‘13 now resides in that same room, one of many places on the Fairfield University campus that have been converted in order to host displaced Fairfield Beach area residents who had lost their homes in Hurricane Sandy just last week.

The east coast continues to clean up after the hurricane had destroyed houses, uprooted trees and flooded many streets that left residents discouraged in the aftermath.

A large portion of the 350 displaced  residents chose to return to campus rather than commute. Lounges in halls like 70 McCormick Rd., Gonzaga, Jogues and Campion are now converted to host students. Some seniors are staying with friends on campus or rooming with underclassmen in doubles.

Director of the Office of Residential Life Ophelie Rowe-Allen, said the housing process has been “hectic,” but they are doing the best they can to meet students’ needs: “If they need a place on campus, we try to find it for them.” She said she does not place students based on how long it might take for their beach houses to be renovated.

Staff members “have been working 24 hours to get everything fixed. They’ve worked from the beginning of the storm until to now … going home late, working very late,” said Rowe-Allen.

So far, students are aware of the University’s efforts. Lewandowski said, “It’s definitely a switch going from sharing a house with five girls to sharing a room with five girls. But we’re happy just to have a place to stay.”

Senior Andrew Bromstedt, whose house didn’t flood but needs renovations to its heating system, had originally planned to move into a townhouse, but it ended up having too many people, so the Office of Residential Life moved him into Gonzaga Hall.

Bromstedt said of Res Life: “They’re doing the best they can. You can’t be too mad; it’s not like it’s their fault that the hurricane came.”

Senior Kimberly Combs, who lives with five other girls in the converted third floor lounge in Campion Hall, shared Bromstedt’s sentiments towards the University: “The school has been very accommodating, they’ve done everything they can. I mean, it’s no one’s fault.” She noted that she and her roommates chose to move off-campus, so the University didn’t have to accommodate the residents, but still did so.

That is not to say they don’t have their share of complaints. Students are still getting used to relocating from life near the waters to life on campus. They must adjust to the smaller living area, for one, as Lewandowski said.

“Just sharing a room with five people is very different from having my own room. You can’t really have people over with five roommates,” said Lewandowski.

“The school doesn’t have enough room for everyone, we can’t live like this — six seniors in a room,” said Catherine LaGreca ‘13, who rooms with Combs. According to her, the school must consider the future of students who might want to live on the beach, if the option is available by next semester.

Even though the Office of Residential Life has given them beds, added laundry swipes to their StagCards, and placed them in residences campus-wide, they don’t have enough refrigerators for campus’ new residents, causing some issues with the storage of food.

Barone is one choice for some who want a 14-meals a week plan for around $600 for the semester. But LaGreca said that she and her roommates choose to go out for food, which is getting expensive, she noted. They also are hesitant to buy a meal plan when they aren’t sure when they’d return to their beach house and not have any more use for the beach plan.

The residents in the Campion also worry about the rest of the senior year. Though they agree that it’s something that all seniors will remember and bond over for the rest of their lives, Combs and LaGreca’s roommate, Paulina Foster ‘13, agreed that Hurricane Sandy had “put a huge damper on [our senior year].”

Because “residential guidelines still apply to all students,” according to Rowe-Allen, seniors might have to adjust their social lifestyle. But the director of Residential Life said that after three years, she is not at all worried that this year’s class-fused living situation will cause problems.

For many beach students, rooming in cramped quarters and changing their lifestyles is the only option. According to Lewandowski, her beach house needs three to five months to be repaired. She received two feet of water and sewage damage in her house, and most of her belongings were destroyed. Her landlord doesn’t seem to be helping the case; she heard from a neighbor that he flew out of country after the storm.

Campion’s newest residents are unsure of their beach house’s fate. Combs noted Wednesday and Thursday’s Nor’easter has the potential to cause more damages.

Rowe-Allen noted that Hurricane Sandy seemed to bring the Fairfield University a bit closer. Alumni have come to the rescue of Stags. Community members have offered their homes in such places like Fairfield, Trumbull and Darien. She is still receiving responses as of Tuesday. “The response was ‘overwhelming,’” she concluded.

The freshmen are also accommodating their older neighbors. Freshmen Nora Garrity sympathizes with the seniors: “It’s too bad that the seniors who live at the beach have to come back to campus and live with freshmen after three years of looking forward to living on the beach.”

Freshman Deirdre Simms also said, “I would say that it is really unfortunate that the seniors have to stay in the dorms but the most important thing is that they have a place to stay. I think everyone has been making the best of the situations in the dorms.”

Bromstedt and the new residents of Campion are adapting to their circumstances. Lewandowski has found a possible new home for next year and said she was excited about the find.

For the Class of 2013, life moves on.

For more information on Fairfield University beach residents:

  • Greenwich Times published an article about Father Jeffrey von Arx, S.J., and the beach residents he reached out to.

Fairfield U. campus belted by Sandy

Photographic spread of damages in Fairfield, Conn. from Hurricane Sandy. Loan Le/The Mirror

Yesterday morning, the sun shone down on the Barone Campus Center. Fairfield University flags reclaimed their places on light poles campus-wide. The gardening staff returned to meticulously caring for the evergreen lawns on campus.

This scene was in stark contrast against Monday evening at Fairfield University, when nearly all campus buildings had gone dark and was at the mercy of Hurricane Sandy’s 80 mph winds.

News about Hurricane Sandy, dubbed by some as “Frankenstorm” or “The Superstorm,” first emerged more than a week ago. The Weather Channel was quick to notify people about its severity and even tweeted that this hurricane “will occupy a place in the annals of weather history as one of the most extraordinary to have affected the United States.”

Fairfield University cancelled Monday and Tuesday classes in preparation for Sandy. According to one of many StagAlerts that the University had sent out, “all students who can go home are strongly encouraged to do so.” For those who chose to remain, the school instructed them to stay inside at all times.

According to a campus-distributed survey, around 1000 students waited out the storm on campus.

During the storm

At approximately 5:30 p.m., the Townhouses lost power. Around 500 residents in the Townhouse complex had to be evacuated via shuttle buses to the BCC, but some students went to stay with friends in the other residence.

Because of its spaciousness, the connecting dining service and couches and furniture, the BCC became the main evacuation center during Hurricane Sandy, according to Nathan Lubich, assistant director of Residence Life, who spoke for the office. If the BCC was ever compromised, Lubich imagined that they would move students to Alumni Hall.

Some students complained about the evacuation, but Lubich said he understood the circumstances. “It’s really hard for people to be told to just sit and wait.”

But, ultimately, the Resident Assistants performed “really well,” Lubich said. The RAs, who were asked to remain on campus as “critical employees,” had their radios ready and went on rounds in their halls during the power outage. Public Safety officers also assisted in the patrol.

The Quad, the Village, Dolan and Bellarmine all lost power by 7:30 p.m. on Monday, but since the emergency lights stayed on, students were allowed to stay in their residences.

From then on was a waiting game for most. Students received Facebook and Twitter updates from the University, Fairfield Police Department, The Mirror, Fairfield University Student Association and Inter-Residential Housing Association.

Twitter also indicated smaller incidents, which happened during the outage. A fallen wire of 13,000 Hertz had caused a small fire on North Benson Road. In Mahan, some students were stuck in an elevator but were eventually freed later on in the night.

Then at about 11 p.m., almost simultaneously, power was restored to all buildings, save for the Townhouses.

Technically, Hurricane Sandy was downgraded to post-tropical cyclone status around 7 p.m. Despite this change, weather broadcasters had urged people to still take Sandy seriously.

Broken tree outside of Dolan Hall. Photo credit: Loan Le

The damages to the University campus consisted of fallen trees and some smashed cars, but these damages seemed to pale in comparison to those in the town of Fairfield.

Dealing with the Aftermath

Next Tuesday morning Fairfield was in a state of emergency with over 97 percent of residents without power. Streets and homes suffered severe flooding. Some roads were blocked by broken branches.

Because of road blockages and the power outage, for example, FPD had used the University Department of Public Safety radio frequencies to collaborate on responding to nearby damage, including the short-lived fire on North Benson Road.

Nationally, the statistics showed even more dire consequences. On Tuesday, approximately 8 million people were without power.

As of Thursday evening, CNN indicated the death toll in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean was at 157. The cost of economic damage is at an estimated $20 billion, with some news reporting that it could possibly amount to $50 or $60 billion.

However, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Fairfield University moves forward with the resilience to overcome future difficulties.

Vice President of Student Affairs Thomas C. Pellegrino

The next day, Barone Campus Center Dining Hall provided full service to displaced Townhouse and Beach area residents and other students, an act that proved to Lubich the attempt to return to normality.

“Every crisis brings with it its own unique circumstances, and Hurricane Sandy was no exception. With that said, our approach is to keep students and community members safe, through best practices and through clear and timely communications,” Vice President of Student Affairs Thomas Pellegrino said.

Dolan resident Amanda LaMattina ‘14 approved of the safety measures the University had undertaken during the crisis. “I personally felt safer there than going home. My parents actually encouraged me to stay here. I can honestly say that after the hurricane I was a lot better off staying here than going home,” she said.

Similarly, Sarah McHugh ‘15 said she felt safe because “when the power went out and this storm was going on I was surrounded by my friends.”

Junior Nicole Juliano, a Townhouse resident who stayed in McInnes Hall while the evacuation had been underway, said of her current situation: “The townhouses not having power is frustrating but I can’t really complain because there are students who lost their homes completely. I’ve been staying with friends in Mahan and McInnes and we’re allowed back to our houses during the day.”

Juliano and Lubich said that the University had done a good job with keeping student up-to-date during and after the storm. Parents on Facebook found the University updates to be helpful.

On the Fairfield University Facebook page, Lisa Fescoe Petramale, who has a son enrolled, wrote: “They’re doing a fantastic job so far for the safety of all.” Another parent, Suzanne Taves, resided in California and said she “ really appreciated the updates.”

Townhouse resident Rob Garrone ‘14 also believed the University did its best in response to the hurricane, but still had criticism for some of the school’s procedures.

“I think the university is being a little heavy-handed in its response to the storm in this instance,” said Garrone. “I could easily be sleeping in my bed in my townhouse in the dark at night instead of being in someone else’s room, inconveniencing my friends and other guests like the beach residents who really do need a place to stay. I’m not afraid of the dark.”

Pellegrino also pointed other areas of improvement during natural disaster responses: “In terms of what could have been done better, I think there would be opportunity for us to streamline our communications and see to it that we were meeting reasonable expectations in terms of clarity and timeliness. That’s always something that can be worked on.”

Moving forward

Fairfield University is eager to move on. “‘Tireless efforts’ is a term that gets thrown around a lot, but in this instance, these people have very much worked around the clock this past week adjusting to the needs of an extraordinarily difficult situation,” he said.

Pellegrino said: “Suffice to say, though, that these are going to be continually challenging times. We will be there for the students, and I think the level of support received from all sectors of the University has already reaped rewards.”

“As a Jesuit institution, Fairfield does this better than most,” he said.

Published in The Mirror on Nov. 2 in a special Hurricane Sandy issue