‘the whole street went dark’

Storm strikes campus

Jay Benedict | Editor-in-Chief

Light beams through a hole in the roof of John Lance Arena, opened up by strong winds from storms on Tuesday, Feb. 28. Photo by:Hunter Peterson/Collegio

Light beams through a hole in the roof of John Lance Arena, opened up by strong winds from storms on Tuesday, Feb. 28. Photo by:Hunter Peterson/Collegio


A powerful storm ripped through the southern edge of Pittsburg late Tuesday night, packing straight-line winds in excess of 110 mph. As a result, the PSU Crisis Response Team sprang into action.
Steve Erwin, associate vice president of campus life and auxilary services, says the team was called into action by PSU President Steve Scott, and assembled about 15 minutes after the storm passed. Utilizing the campus police office as a headquarters, the team began assessing the damage to campus and began developing a plan to deal with the effects. They made the decision to close campus around 5 a.m. Wednesday.
“We consulted with the city and decided that with the extent of damage on Joplin, Broadway and Rouse streets, it would be ill-advised to have the students come to campus,” Erwin said.
Erwin says Westar Energy workers made progress on the power outage, but the large scale of the power outage kept pushing back the campus’ reconnection target time.
“I’m glad we decided to cancel because, even without students, the streets were congested this morning,” Erwin said.
Tom Amershek, director of building trades and landscape maintenance, says university electricians were called in around 1 a.m. and stayed most of the night to monitor the campus’s generators and essential operations.
“I’m really happy with our response,” Amershek said. “Our employees know what it takes to keep the place running and did it well, considering the circumstances.”
The eastern side of campus was hit harder than main campus as the Weede and Student Rec Center suffered the most damage. Amershek says the storm opened a large hole in the Weede’s roof and fixing it is the top priority. The rec center’s roof was also damaged by the storm.
“We’re just lucky the storm didn’t produce more rainfall,” Amershek said. “Custodial staff members were working at the time and prevented any significant water damage from occurring to the floors of either building.”
When daylight finally came, a full assessment of campus was made. Dennis Bounds, PSU police officer, reported for duty at 6 a.m. and says the storm’s aftermath on campus was the worst he’s seen during his 18 years.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Bounds said. “We had reports of pieces of roof that had flown off of the buildings around the area, taking out air conditioning units, and half the campus was without power due to the downed power lines.”
Amershek says he deployed his team from the PSU Physical Plant this morning and they started at the main part of campus and worked east. The workers took an inventory of damage to buildings and repaired or cleaned up most minor issues Wednesday.
“We lost a few trees and were concerned about broken glass and sharp pieces of metal,” Amershek said. “But again, most of the damage was at the Weede and east of it.”
Aside from structural damage, Amershek says debris from the Crimson Villa Apartments and Chatter’s Bar and Grill ended up on university property.
“The clean up effort around the rec center and the Gene Bicknell Sports Complex will take place during the next two or three days,” Amershek said.
Amershek says power has been restored to the Weede, but it will likely remain closed through the weekend.
“The Weede will remain closed because we have contractors coming tomorrow to begin repairing the roof,” Amershek said. “We deemed it a safety concern to have students and staff there while the roof is still open and work is being done.”
Erwin says Wednesday was more of an assessment day. Tomorrow, Amershek, the contractors, and Cate Breneman, grounds maintenance supervisor, will begin submitting their reports on the extent of the damage. Until those reports are in, no estimate on the cost or timeline for repairs can be made.
“Power will be back to the rec center and Kansas Technology Center in the next few days, but the full recovery effort will take longer,” Erwin said. “We don’t know how long it will take or what it will cost. We’re just fortunate no students or community members were injured, and that we had a great cooperative response to an emergency situation.”

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