Updated 3:03 a.m.
The storm that killed more than 100 people and left most of Lower Manhattan flooded and powerless largely spared Morningside Heights and the Columbia campus. Classes were scheduled to resume Wednesday after two days of cancellation.
There were reports of flooding, fires, power outages, and horrific damage across New York and New Jersey Tuesday morning, following hurricane-strength wind gusts that lasted through the night. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that the storm killed at least 18 people in New York City.
But Columbia’s neighborhood, which lies on high ground relative to most of the city, escaped Hurricane Sandy—which was actually a post-tropical cyclone by the time it made landfall in New Jersey—relatively unscathed. Lights flickered in dormitories across campus around 11 p.m. on Monday, but the power ultimately stayed on. Cleanup crews removed fallen trees and scattered branches Tuesday, and there were a few windows broken around campus, but the damage was “nothing substantial,” Executive Vice President for Facilities Joe Ienuso said.
Two trees—one in the Wien courtyard and one in front of Dodge Hall—were destroyed, two windows in Wien Lounge broke and some residential buildings had minor roofing issues. Up to two feet of water filled the Gould-Remmer Boathouse at Baker Field in Inwood, but the damage had already been repaired by Tuesday evening, Ienuso said.
With Morningside Heights in good shape by the afternoon, the University announced that most schools—including all undergraduate schools—would hold classes Wednesday, after two days of classes and events were canceled. On the Morningside campus, the School of Continuing Education will not hold classes, and the School of the Arts will not hold graduate-level classes. At the Columbia University Medical Center uptown, the Mailman School of Public Health will not hold classes.
Ienuso, Dean of Student Affairs Kevin Shollenberger, and roughly 40 other members of the Emergency Management Operations Team were stationed in Lerner Hall over the last two days, where they made decisions regarding classes and other University operations. The decision to cancel classes for some schools and not others on Wednesday was made between Provost John Coatsworth and individual schools’ deans, all of whom were “really thinking on behalf of their specific constituencies and the issues involved in that,” Ienuso said.
While canceling classes on Monday and Tuesday was a relatively straightforward decision, it was harder to determine what to do Wednesday, Ienuso said, particularly considering that New York University had already announced it would remain closed and that the transit system was still largely shut down. But the determining factor in the decision for most schools to hold classes was that Columbia still had power, Ienuso said.
Bloomberg said at a Tuesday morning press conference that it would probably be at least three or four days until the subways reopen, although the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced a few hours later that buses would start running by 5 p.m. Three Columbia affiliates in Morningside Heights—Jewish Theological Seminary, Teachers College, and Union Theological Seminary—canceled Wednesday classes.
“We know that transportation within the five boroughs and wider metropolitan area will remain a challenge for several days to come and that there will inevitably be some students, faculty and staff who may have special difficulty reaching our campuses,” the University said in a statement late Tuesday afternoon.
The statement encouraged professors to “be flexible and creative in making provision for students who may themselves not be able to reach campus, such as providing class materials including notes from lectures and discussions.” It also said that the resumption of classes would be good for students.
“Our students will only benefit by beginning to reengage in the purposeful work that brings our University community—and our City—together each day,” the statement read.
Besides the emergency team members, many Columbia employees—including dining, facilities, and public safety staff members—“stayed in their offices or makeshift accommodations so we could continue these services throughout the storm,” Shollenberger said. Southfield resident advisers Sarah Fakhry, CC ’14, and Jose Ricardo Moreno, CC ’13, organized a thank-you note drive in John Jay Lounge on Tuesday evening, where students could show their appreciation for staff members who worked overtime during the storm.
“Some of them didn’t get much sleep, others didn’t get to eat,” said Nancy Gonzalez, SEAS ’16, as she signed a card. “The security guard in Carman, fist-pumping Mike, said that he didn’t have food, so I brought food for him.”
As students emerged from their dormitories Tuesday, Morningside Heights was still buffeted by cold rain and strong winds, even as the sun peeked out from behind heavy clouds. Many trees were toppled or stripped of leaves, and debris littered the sidewalks. At least a dozen local businesses did not open their doors.
In Morningside Park, where the pond flooded nearby walkways, Parks Department employees began raking scattered leaves and shredding fallen branches as early as 7 a.m. Brad Taylor, secretary of Friends of Morningside Park, called it some of the worst damage he has seen in 12 years.
“The winds were sustained, so we had lots of damage that we haven’t seen in earlier storms. I can tell you it’s going to take a while for the crews to get the trees all cut up and chipped,” he said.
In the past, Morningside Park has been spared from wind damage because the slope of its hill faces east.
“The last time we saw hurricane-force winds, they swept from west to east,” Taylor said. “This storm came in, if anything, from the other direction.”
The most damage to the park occurred between 116th and 120th streets, where trees clinging to rocks fell down in large numbers, he said. But despite the quick response of the cleanup crews, the Parks Department kept parks closed.
“They need people to stay clear for a while while they get the trees out. We don’t want people playing around or under them because they can shift,” Taylor said.
Emergency shelters across the city were open during the storm in schools and community centers, including one at I.S. 88, on 114th Street between Frederick Douglass and Adam Clayton Powell boulevards. J. Robin Moon, a senior health policy advisor in the mayor’s office who was volunteering at the shelter, said that city employees were told to go to the nearest shelter to help out.
“City Hall is closed down, but everyone’s still working,” said Moon, who lives on 123rd Street. She added that there were about 20 people at the I.S. 88 shelter during the day Monday, and about double that number by Tuesday.
For many students, the storm was a chance to take a break from the rigors of midterm season. Cynthia Hajal, CC ’15, said that the storm “wasn’t that scary,” adding that she got some sleep and spent time with friends.
“The fact that we had to stay indoors made us bond,” she said.
Sarika Kumar, BC ’16, said that a tree flapping against a window near the Barnard quad was “entertainment for a good couple of hours.”
“It was kind of like a five-day weekend,” Lisa Zhou, CC ’16, said.
Jeremiah Gill, CC ’15, said he and his friends watched the first installment of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy Monday night and planned to finish the extended edition by Tuesday evening.
“This hurricane has made the beginning of sophomore year really exciting,” he said. “I think these things can really bring people together, and force people to stay in and spend time together. It’s a nice break from the everyday life at Columbia.”
Jeremy Budd, Ying Chang, Sophie Gamez, Eva Kalikoff, Shayna Orens, and Christian Zhang contributed reporting.
A previous version of this story attributed a quote from Lisa Zhou to Sarika Kumar. Spectator regrets the error.