The Nor'easter: How Amherst Stacks Up
Issue   |   Wed, 11/09/2011 - 02:51

Everyone knew it was going to snow on Saturday, October 29, but no one expected the “Snowpocalyse” that followed. At Amherst College, most students crammed into Valentine dining hall, connecting power cords to power cords, waiting for the lights to come back on in their rooms. Many of us felt more than just inconvenienced – especially those living in Marsh, Plimpton, Tyler, and Newport, who had to evacuate their dorms.

Yet, though Valentine appeared understaffed and chaotic, was Amherst really as unprepared as we might have thought? When compared with how life usually operates on campus, conditions over the weekend were rough. But how did Amherst compare to other colleges around the area?

When I contacted some friends at the University of Connecticut, I learned that life there continued fairly undisturbed by the power outage. The university (which is significantly larger than Amherst) had many generators that kept the residence halls warm and well lit. No students were forced to evacuate, the dining halls were open and serving food, and classes were held as usual on Monday, October 31. While they were a little annoyed at the fact that they still had to go to classes, it seems to me that the university was better prepared for the power outage than Amherst, whose only power source on campus was Valentine dining hall.

But given Amherst’s size, I think the college accommodated us pretty well. When I heard Hampshire College had been completely evacuated, I certainly felt much more appreciative of Valentine’s warmth and electricity. While the rest of the Pioneer Valley was cold and without power, Amherst College kept Valentine open all day, allowing students, professors, and anyone else in the area to eat hot meals, stay warm, use laptops and charge phones.

“I think Amherst did a really great job,” says Cathy Amaya ’14, “Charlie, one of the supervisors at Val, came at 2am on Sunday morning to make sure the fridges were running and none of the food had spoiled so that we would have warm food for that day!”

We were clearly much more fortunate than Hampshire students. Hampshire College remained closed on Monday and Tuesday of last week. Students were finally admitted back to campus on Wednesday, and classes resumed Friday. Instead of missing a whole week’s worth of classes, Amherst reopened its campus on Tuesday, November 1.

Yet, despite the fact that all Hampshire students had to evacuate, there are still colleges around that are even worse off than Hampshire College. The University of Hartford hasn’t had power since October 29. The 7,000 students on campus were only given about five minutes to evacuate their dorms before they were relocated to the student center and freshmen dorms (the only buildings with power from generators) where they are currently still waiting for power to return.

Rachel Dehnel, a sophomore from UHART, states, “No one had time to grab their homework, laptops, or phone chargers, so there’s nothing for us to do. We all just sit around, bored, hoping power will come back soon.”

At least Amherst gave students a few hours to grab their essentials before evacuating from dorms without emergency lighting. UHART students are bored and uncomfortable. They haven’t had classes all week, and don’t expect to start classes up again for at least another few days. So, yes, things could have been much worse.

Amherst and Mount Holyoke College seemed to do equally well in dealing with the power outages. At Mount Holyoke, all residence halls and the student center had emergency lighting and heat. Students remained relatively comfortable, and were provided hot meals in their residence halls. They also housed about 130 Hampshire College students in their field house and provided them with meals. Though the college was closed on Monday, the health center was opened to provide urgent care. Power was restored to much of the campus, and like Amherst, classes resumed on Tuesday.

So, how’d we do? Compared to UCONN and Mount Holyoke, perhaps there were ways Amherst could have been more prepared; for example, it might be a good idea to install emergency lighting in all dorms on campus. Compared to places like Hampshire College and UHART, however, Amherst took remarkably good care of us. The dining staff was exceptional in serving everyone who came in search of food, and many students were able to share outlets and wait out the storm. Overall, we were pretty lucky.

Betz (not verified) says:
Mon, 04/09/2012 - 21:42

UCONN represent! I think Amherst got hit harder than UCONN with the cold weather in October. That could be a factor why everything ran smoothly here at UCONN.

P.S. hi diana! <3