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R.I. universities weather storm complications

Students at schools around the state navigated power outages and snowed-in roads

Except for occasional sledding injuries and brief power outages, many Brown students escaped unscathed from Winter Storm Nemo this weekend. But other universities in Rhode Island, especially those with large commuter populations, are still feeling the fallout from the storm.


Blast from the past

These challenges are not new — though Winter Storm Nemo left about 20 inches of snow in its wake, the Blizzard of ’78 left more than 28 inches of snow, 11,800 homes and business without power in Rhode Island and over 9,000 people in shelters.

“We never thought it was going to be as bad as it was,” said University of Rhode Island graduate Mark Petteruti, who was a sophomore living on the URI campus when the Blizzard of ’78 hit on a Monday and closed the campus for a week.

“The cafeterias started to get depleted on food because there was no way for trucks to get to campus,” he said.

Dining workers got creative and “made unusual kinds of dinners,” Petteruti said. “When it got really low, they were serving canned food.”

The National Guard even delivered food by helicopter to the roof of the cafeteria building, he said. “We thought that was unbelievable.”

But snowed-in URI students found ways to stay entertained, Petteruti said. “They had all these events building snowmen and huge sculptures.”


Flaking out

Some universities around the state continue to address storm issues.

URI saw power outages in some of its buildings Saturday, including its fraternity houses. On Saturday night, URI issued a mandatory evacuation of all fraternity residents to the Ryan Center, URI’s main concert venue, which opened for all on-campus students without heat and power. The Greek buildings — located in a region of the URI campus called Fraternity Circle — are maintained by National Grid, an electrical company. Other buildings on campus are maintained by the university itself, according to URI’s website.

But the university-mandated evacuation was hasty and ill-timed for many Fraternity Circle residents, said Alyssa Jeffers, a senior at URI and member of Zeta Tau Alpha sorority.

“Around 10 p.m. last night (fraternity students) were told they had 10 minutes to get medicine and clothes because they were being evacuated,” she said. “Ten minutes isn’t really a lot of time when you have to pack for something like this.”

Frustrated students and parents turned to the URI Facebook page during the weekend, posting dozens of angry comments on the university’s status updates throughout the weekend.

The majority of URI upperclassmen live off campus, Jeffers said, and many commute from home. Many of the angry comments came from those commuters, some of whom cited previous problems with emergency management when Hurricane Sandy hit last semester. Other comments were from students who complained they had no heat, power or food and worried they would still be expected to attend class Monday.

“My neighborhood hasn’t even been plowed,” one commenter wrote on Facebook. “I can’t even leave my powerless and heatless house. I couldn’t get to class if I tried.”

Jeffers, who lives off campus in Narragansett, R.I., said she and her friends were forced to sleep over at a friend’s house Saturday night when her power and heat went out. She said she planned to spend Sunday night at a hotel to stay warm.

“It’s not very pleasant,” she said.

URI allowed students to return to their buildings Sunday night and canceled classes Monday, though students reported Sunday that Fraternity Circle had not regained power.

“I’m relieved that classes are canceled for tomorrow,” said Kathleen Orlando, a URI junior. As a student living off campus, Orlando was stranded in her house without power or heat when she was snowed in, and her streets remained unplowed during her attempts to dig out her car, she said. Orlando’s parents eventually traveled from Concord, Mass. to pick her up from Narragansett.

“It’s definitely nice to know I have more time to get back there,” she said.


A flurry of problems

Johnson and Wales University closed Friday through Monday for Winter Storm Nemo, canceling classes and labs and shutting down most operations.

“We’ve just been kind of snowed in the whole time,” said Denise Spooner, a JWU senior.

Power went out in the first-year dorms on campus, prompting the university to open libraries and the culinary building for common use, Spooner said. The university provided “complimentary breakfast in the culinary building, and they’ve been offering movies,” she added.

A student in the culinary school, Spooner said the closing also meant Sunday culinary labs were canceled, complicating exams for students. The university runs on a trimester system and finals begin Feb. 18.

“It’s our last week of classes,” Spooner said. “If we have to make (lab) up, we have to make it up next week.”

“It’s going to be more inconvenient than anything,” she added.

Juliana Granato, a sophomore at Providence College, said she took few extra precautions for the storm.

“We had a lot of food in my room already,” she said. During the blizzard, Granato said she spent the time “hanging out with my friends.”

PC, which resumes class today, saw power “flicker in a couple of dorms,” but Granato said she was not worried about long-term adverse effects of the blizzard.


Plowing through

Though students at PC are resuming school, those at JWU and URI are using the additional day to get back on their feet.

“Students have to get their work done,” said Stephanie Cinque, a JWU senior, but she added that the administration is updating students in a timely fashion.

“They do a really good job of letting us know what is going on,” she said.

Students at URI said they want more time to recover.

“We don’t have water for showers, we don’t have Internet to do homework, we don’t have heat to stay warm,” Jessers said. She expressed relief at classes being delayed. “No one’s really ready to go back.”

Though Orlando said she is not “too concerned about having to catch up on work,” she is concerned about missing class time. Still, she said the decision to cancel classes was “appropriate.”

“They let us know (about canceling classes) early enough,” she said. “It could have been worse.”


A previous version of this article incorrectly listed University of Rhode Island student Alyssa Jeffers’ sorority affiliation. In fact, Jeffers is a member of Zeta Tau Alpha. The Herald regrets the error. 


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