Administrators at the College of William and Mary were pleasantly surprised when the damage dealt by Hurricane Irene, a Doppler radar red hurricane, was less severe than expected.
The hurricane, which made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 3 storm, is the first to hit Williamsburg since Hurricane Isabel in 2003, yet Irene’s 120 miles per hour wind gusts and 10 inches of rainfall offered little competition to her predecessor.
“My sense is that the damage from Saturday’s excitement was pretty much par for the course for recent hurricanes and ice storms,” said College President Taylor Reveley in an email. “The damage from Irene certainly could have been worse. Hurricanes are powerful engines of destruction, and you never know whether the campus is going to take a real hit. In this instance, it didn’t.”
Dave Shepard, the associate vice president of facilities management, joined the chorus of College administrators who said the damage was less than expected. He considers a small hole in the roof of the Commons Dining Hall the worst damage sustained by the College. Other building damage was inflicted on the Harrison Dormitory stairwell.
“I don’t think there was any major damage to buildings or other facilities campus,” Reveley said in an email. “The main harm was to our wonderful old trees — 40 killed or severely hurt. Otherwise, the problems centered on some roof leaks and water in basements.”
Facilities staff performed major tree cleanup on the day following the hurricane, while Bartlett Tree Service continues to work on the heavier stumps and foliage littering campus.
The projected cost of damage to the College remains uncertain, but administrators doubt it will put a dent in the College’s wallet.
“Assuming the damage isn’t material, we’ll very likely cover it with the funds normally budgeted for repairs and tree maintenance during the course of a year,” Reveley said in an email.
The archeological site at the recently discovered slave quarters did not experience damage beyond the muddying of the ground.
While Shepard said more trees came down than when Hurricane Isabel struck, both Shepard and Vice President for Student Affairs Virginia Ambler ’88 PhD ‘06 noted the College was more prepared this time to deal with cleanup and power outages.
“The College, with the blessing of the state as far as funding for an emergency generator upgrade project, has made significant improvements in its ability to maintain power to critical facilities,” Shepard said in a press release. “The College was very lucky this time. The power on the main campus stayed up almost throughout the whole evacuation, which was much different than Isabel, when we were out completely for almost a week. In this case, we were almost completely restored to power on Sunday night.”
Beyond campus, Hurricane Irene’s path of destruction was more pronounced. As of Wednesday, Irene claimed 43 James City County homes, a figure six times that of previous assessments, according to The Virginia Gazette. Fifty-eight additional residential homes were damaged and Williamsburg property damage estimates are $3.8 million. Power outages remain the most pressing issue for Williamsburg residents.
“Across the board, we conveyed clearly and loudly, we were not very happy with the response,” said County Administrator Robert Middaugh in a Virginia Gazette article.
Dominion Virginia Power predicts that all power will be restored by Friday, but many Williamsburg residents are upset with the company. While close to 3,000 Williamsburg residents remained without power as of Wednesday, College officials were complimentary of the response rate.
“Dominion Power was very responsive to the needs of the campus after the hurricane,” Reveley said in an email. “Its crews managed to get all of our dorms up and running in time for students to return on Tuesday.”
Although power has yet to be restored to her home, Ambler did not attribute her power outage to a lack of efficiency on Dominion Virginia Power’s part.
“I’m sure they have a lot of power outages that they are dealing with, so I think they are handling it the best they can,” she said. “They performed very well in restoring power to campus throughout the storm.”
Reveley weathered Irene on campus.
“I was on campus throughout Irene’s visit to W&M, working in the Brafferton until the hurricane really began to roar,” Reveley said in an email. “Then I moved to the President’s House. The PH [President’s house] lost power for a while, but got it back after some hours.”
Hurricane Irene cannot claim any change to the fall semester class schedule, to the dismay of some professors, although Ambler said students seem relieved.
“I simply think that we should have continued the semester for a week to make up for lost classes,” said English Professor Deborah Morse.