Students were caught by surprise on Friday when a nor’easter tore through the region. The snowstorm left the campus and Ville without power for several days and did significant damage to the arboretum.
Winter Storm Riley caused outages all along the East Coast. PECO, the electric company that services most of southeastern Pennsylvania including Swarthmore, was reporting more than 850,000 outages. SEPTA was completely shut down from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning, and roads were covered in snow and tree branches.
The power went out at around 4 p.m. on Friday afternoon. Director of Maintenance Ralph Thayer sent out increasingly frequent email dispatches, including one email urging students to avoid taking elevators due to reported outages.
Sharples was the only building on campus with power during the storm. Students crowded into all rooms of the dining hall, many jockeying to get a spot at one of the few power outlets. Some students even brought a TV to Sharples and played Super Smash Bros.
“It was loud,” said Malini Kohli ’20. “It was a lot of people together … It was cool.”
Sharples stayed open until 10:30 p.m., with staff from Essie Mae’s taking over for the later hours. Beth Klein, a Sharples employee, remembered the environment in Sharples fondly.
“That was a really cool night,” Klein said. “It wasn’t like I felt like I had to sit here and swipe cards, like monotonously boring. I felt like we’re all here together in this. I felt like part of a team.”
Though Klein’s house had lost power and she had to brave a treacherous drive home, she found enjoyment in the experience.
“I could have looked at it as, ‘Oh my God, this sucks and I’m nervous to drive,’ but I looked at it as an adventure the whole night,” Klein said. “I’m a people person, so I was looking around, seeing what people were doing. They were playing cards. I like that better than before, [when] I’d be stressed with anxiety just sitting here doing the same thing over and over.”
Klein felt that the power outage was a powerful bonding experience for students and staff alike.
“I could see why everybody bonded last night. We just worked it out all together,” she said.
The maintenance department rushed to get a rental generator on campus. They restored power on campus via the generator late on Friday night.
Although the snow had completely melted by Saturday afternoon, the storm’s aftermath was felt throughout campus.
The wind tore down several trees around campus, including the massive Class of 1876 bur oak near Willets. Josh Coceano, a horticulturist at the Scott Arboretum, expressed sorrow when talking about the class tree, describing it as his favorite.
Coceano said that he hoped the tree would be cleared by later this week. He also encouraged students to stay out of the Crum, where there are several downed trees.
Veronica Douglan ’19, who works as an assistant at the Scott Arboretum, was deeply emotional about the damage inflicted by the storm.
“I noticed that the one in front of Ashton [House] that was just huge and just went all the way across the road,” she said. “I started feeling really sad because [the fallen trees] are old. I don’t think I would feel sad if a short tree fell or a skinny tree, but the really fat ones that literally dedicated their entire lives to just living, just falling because of the stupid wind, it kind of pissed me off and made me sad … Now they’re never gonna grow back. They’re gone forever.”
Many houses and businesses in Swarthmore borough had no power for most of the weekend. The Swarthmore Co-Op was hit particularly hard by the outage.
“On Friday night at about 7:30 or so, in the middle of that storm we had, the power went out here in Swarthmore and we did not have power restored here until 5:30 on Saturday evening, which is about 22 hours without refrigeration,” Co-Op Manager Mike Litka said. “And with that being said, there’s health code rules and regulations about how long food can be kept out of a temperature range. Regretfully, because of the power outage we had to dispose of our perishable good inventory.”
On Sunday, the Co-Op Facebook page put out a call to community members asking for help cleaning out perishable goods.
“As a community owned business, any help you could provide to the staff to quicken this heavy task would be appreciated,” read the post. “Please come on in and show your Co-op spirit.”
According to Litka, several volunteers turned out on Sunday to clear out perishables. The Co-Op reopened on Monday, but the shelves in the dairy and freezer aisles were almost completely bare. Litka confirmed that the store would be 80 percent restocked by Friday.
“At this point we’re still calculating [the losses],” Litka said. “It was a catastrophic loss … The Co-Op is hanging in there. We are a small independent business. We are still struggling against the big guys still … We’re holding together. Thankfully, we do have insurance to cover the cost of this event, but it is catastrophic.”
PECO has gradually restored power to campus and the Ville throughout the week. On Wednesday, Thayer sent an all-campus email on Wednesday reporting that PECO had repaired one feeder to campus, and that generator power would be disengaged on Thursday morning.
However, not everyone is back on the grid. Students who live off campus in the Barn have not had power since the storm and have been provided emergency housing by the college.
Thayer thanked maintenance staff who worked to connect the generators.
“We are indebted to them and the crew who gave up their nights and weekend to keep the lights on,” he wrote.