All Colby departments got the call on January 8. It was Personnel Director Doug Terp '84, and the question was: Do you know where your employees are? The College needed to know, he said, that everyone was safe.
That was typical of Colby's response to the ice storm that devastated most of Maine and parts of northern New York and New England and southeastern Canada during the first full week in January. The storm left millions of people--including two-thirds of those in Maine-- without power for periods ranging from hours to weeks. It damaged or destroyed thousands of trees, eliminated telephone service for hundreds of thousands and put a premium on all sources of heat and light: wood, kerosene heaters, camp stoves, batteries, candles and generators. L.L. Bean and others even had to donate warm clothing for the hundreds of out-of-state utility workers who flocked to Maine to work 18-hour days in sub-zero temperatures.
Colby, one of the few places in the state that never lost electricity, served as an emergency shelter for people from all over the region. The request came from the mayor's office on Thursday, January 8, and the first people began arriving that morning to find Terp, Athletic Director Dick Whitmore and a few others setting up tables and chairs in the field house. Beginning that day and continuing through lunch a week later, the facility housed hundreds of people who could not keep warm and fed in their homes. They slept on mattresses Colby happened to have in storage, on Army cots and on mats from Colby's aerobics center and gym. And they ate hundreds of pounds of food donated by the College, prepared by employees of Sodexho, Colby's food-service contractor, and served by Colby dining services workers and volunteers from the community and the College.
Colby's effort was coordinated by Terp, who also was a force behind an emergency plan the College has had in place for two years--a plan that meant Colby could respond to the crisis promptly, efficiently and meaningfully. The students came first, of course, and there was a contingency for taking care of them in the event of a campus power outage. Colby closed for one of the few times in its history on January 9 so employees could take care of their homes and families and could avoid driving on icy roads. Dining services, security and physical plant workers were asked to report if they could do so safely, and many left families to cope at home while they worked 12- and 16-hour shifts. One week after power went out, PPD still had five two-person teams taking electrical generators from house to house trying to give employees still without power enough electricity to keep their houses from freezing up. Unfortunately, they were not always successful; other employees were being deployed to drain plumbing and heating systems where freeze-ups had occurred or were imminent.
Shelter guests, fighting boredom and occasionally bent on mischief, made things difficult for Athletic Department members, who nevertheless were able to go about their business--including staging a two-day men's basketball tournament. Still, Whitmore said, the situation presented "the custodial problem of the century."
Colby employees were invited to move to the campus, and despite the fact that there were no empty dormitory rooms available, some did. Bets Brown and Herb Wilson (she of development, he of the Biology Department) moved into Herb's lab with their cats. Security and physical plant employees slept in lounges.
But most used the College as a place to get a hot shower and a hot meal and as refuge for pets. Kay Devine (admissions) kept her birds in Lunder House, there were cats and dogs in nearly all of the academic buildings and there was one report of a lizard living off the Colby heat largesse.
More than 100 Colby students pitched in at the shelter, particularly Colby Emergency Response leaders Jon Michael Vore '98 and John Maddox '99, who coordinated round-the-clock service (a total of 372 hours) by a staff of 20 student EMTs, and Craig Belanger '00, who as a January Program intern in the office of Waterville Mayor Ruth Joseph served as liaison between City Hall and the shelter. Belanger was interviewed by the host of Public Radio International's Marketplace, David Brancaccio (son of Prof. Pat Brancaccio), for the program's newscast.
Perhaps most dramatic, a group of 24 students (wearing hard hats to protect them from falling ice and branches), who deployed in Waterville to knock on doors and check on people in especially damaged areas, were credited by Fire Chief Darrel Fournier with averting many tragedies and saving at least two lives--those of an elderly couple in the advanced stages of carbon monoxide poisoning from using unvented heaters in their apartment.
Not all responses to the storm were so noble. Physical Plant Director Alan Lewis reported at one of the daily meetings organized by Terp to share news among the College, city, Red Cross, National Guard and Waterville police and fire departments that he was negotiating to buy a tree hanging dangerously close to one of Colby's main power lines. The tree's owner held firm for a high price, the College is still negotiating to take it down, Lewis says.
But warmth was spread at Colby, with people sharing their homes and offering showers and meals, passing no-longer-needed heaters to those still without power and going beyond duty to serve the College and the community.
One employee, worried about her furnace, stopped Alan Lewis in the athletic center lobby.
"What's the temperature in your house?" Lewis asked.
Forty, he was told.
"You're fine," Lewis said. "But it gets below that, you call."
Call who? she asked.
"You call me," Lewis said.
Assessing the Damage
In the storm's immediate aftermath, Stockford brought in a commercial tree company for seven days to help remove upwards of 250 hazardous "hangers"--branches that could fall on walkways and parking lots. Between those and the branches taken down by the storm itself, about 15 pulp-truck loads of wood have been removed from the campus.
Stockford and his crews put in several 12- to 14-hour days to recover from the storm and to deal with two more storms within the next 10 days. "Thanks to the electrical department," which provided emergency heating and plumbing services to some employees' homes, "a lot of us could breathe easier. We really had to concentrate to get this job done, and it helped that our minds could be here, instead of at home."
Two weeks after the storm, preparing for yet another snowfall, Stockford was still shaking his head over the damage he hadn't had time to evaluate among the hundreds of trees in remote areas of the College. "I wouldn't walk around some parts of campus without a hard hat," he said, smiling. "Not on a windy day, anyway."
They Ate Hearty
7,000 half-pints of milk
100 gallons of juice
7,000 cans of soda
1,400 cups of hot chocolate
110 gallons of soup
175 pounds of pasta
95 gallons of pasta sauce
2,150 dinner rolls
235 loaves of bread
155 pounds of turkey
120 pounds of ham
200 gallons of coffee