Taken by surprise

Left in the aftermath of a storm that was widely underestimated, the Coral Gables campus remained closed through Monday after sustaining significant damage from Hurricane Katrina’s 86 mph winds and 18 inches of rain. The storm, which forecasters had expected would hit further north early Friday morning, picked up speed and reached Miami Thursday evening, shortly after school had closed at 6 p.m.

“The storm came up quick,” Dr. Pat Whitely, vice president for student affairs, said. “It was unexpected and our emergency operation hopefully got information out to students in time.”

By the time the storm passed, many students and facilities were left without power, buildings had experienced flooding and a significant amount of landscape damage blocked roads where trees had been knocked down or pulled from their roots. One tree, a banyan outside the bookstore, had been a trademark at the Rock for years.

“That tree didn’t have any damage during [Hurricane] Andrew but unfortunately it was a very old tree and I guess its time was up,” Dr. Whitely said. “It’s very sad because it was a significant tree and of sentimental value for many students.”

Clean-up crews, some brought in from Tampa, were on campus all weekend cleaning up the debris and clearing out roads. The work was expected to be done by the end of this week; in the meantime, University officials urged that students park their cars in garages as much as possible to ease the cleaning efforts.

Students living on campus experienced Katrina’s wind and rain-indoors.

“Everyone had flood damage of some kind whether from air conditioners leaking or windows leaking,” Cara Facer, junior, said. “It was scarier living in the apartment area during a hurricane than in any other residential college because of the large windows. During the storm, you could literally feel the wind blowing in.”

“We had recaulked all the windows [in the dorms] in the last three years,” Dr. Whitely said. “We had such intense rain in such a short period of time that we just had to do everything that could be done. We’ll have to investigate that.”

Residents living in the Holiday Inn and the apartment area lost power, which was not restored until Sunday.

Students in Mahoney-Pearson Residential colleges had water coming into their rooms, and the UC carpet in the first floor, which may have to be replaced, still carried a damp scent from flooding on Sunday.

Despite damages, the University tried to accommodate students as much as possible. Facilities such as the C-Store, Richter Library, the Wellness Center and food vendors remained open on Sunday and Monday with adjusted hours. HurryCanes shuttles also operated on adjusted hours, and a special service ran between Eaton and Mahoney. And in case students got bored with classes being cancelled, shuttle services were added for transportation to Sunset Place.

“People could go to an afternoon movie if they wanted to do that,” Dr. Whitely said.

Classes and all on-campus activities were cancelled Monday, mainly to keep students from coming to campus while clean-up efforts were still in mid-stride.

“We should be on our feet by Tuesday,” Dr. Whitely said. “The good news is that there were no significant injuries or loss of life. Aside from water and landscape damage we fared as well as expected given the severity of the storm and the fact that no one expected it to be this bad.”

For more updates on University advisories, go to www.miami.edu/prepare.

Natalia Maldonado can be contacted at n.maldonado@umiami.edu.