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Rutgers, surrounding community grapples with major flooding after Tropical Storm Ida

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Route 18 was partially submerged in water from the Raritan River as New Brunswick faced significant flooding after Tropical Storm Ida. – Photo by Olivia Thiel

After the passing of Tropical Storm Ida, the Rutgers community and surrounding areas continue to see effects from the storm’s aftermath. 

After announcing late Wednesday night that classes on all campuses except Camden would be delayed until 1 p.m., the University sent additional announcements stating that the delayed classes yesterday as well as all classes today would be held remotely.

In addition to disruptions to class schedules, the first football game of the season against Temple University, set to take place yesterday, was rescheduled to Saturday at noon. All previously purchased tickets and passes for the game will still be honored.

These operational changes stemmed from many physical complications and safety concerns at Rutgers and in the surrounding areas.

Significant flooding led to road closures in and around New Brunswick and Piscataway including Route 18, the Albany Street Bridge, River Road as well as the roads between Route 18 and Neilson Street. Water from the Raritan River rose over the banks due to between 8 and 8.4 inches of rain that fell in New Brunswick on Wednesday, according to the City of New Brunswick.

Sriya Vemuri, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year, said it took until 1 a.m. yesterday after her 7 p.m. class on Wednesday to get home with her parents due to the rain.

“I had to walk against two currents of water that were halfway up to my knees to get from the Academic Building (on the College Avenue campus) to (The Yard @ College Avenue) to get a bus,” Vemuri said. “I nearly fell twice, and honestly don't even know how I didn't get hurt. My parents, who were picking me up, ended up getting stranded because they found (themselves) surrounded by flooded roads near the Livingston campus.”

Pepper Powell, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said she and her roommate Morgan Turiano, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, came back on Wednesday night to find their apartment basement flooded. They approached Route 18 yesterday morning and saw cars with water up to the windows.

“The (exit) ramp descends, so the water came up to meet it, and you could just stand in the street and look down and see fish swimming at your toes,” Powell said.

Amid the flooding, buses were operating at 50 percent service yesterday and following detours, though all route lines were still being covered, said University spokesperson Dory Devlin.

“Buses are scheduled to operate on the regular academic schedule (today),” she said. “If roads are not open (today), buses will follow the quickest pathways available and the dispatch team will monitor the situation and make appropriate route updates as needed.”

The river water rose throughout the day yesterday, with the river's peak coming at approximately 5:30 p.m., according to an article from Patch.

While no deaths or serious injuries were reported in New Brunswick, more than 1,000 residents had to be evacuated and approximately 50 stranded motorists were rescued from the tops of vehicles, according to city officials. There are 12 individuals utilizing the city's emergency shelter facilities, and 164 people have been served as a result of the storm in total as of last night.

“Key bridges and roadways across the state remain closed,” said Antonio M. Calcado, executive vice president for strategic planning and operations. “We have mitigated the damage wrought by the storm and are now in the process of thoroughly inspecting our physical plant to assure there are no residual or safety issues that need attention. We understand that members of the Rutgers community are dealing with emergency situations in their own homes and communities and many have not been left untouched by this weather event.”

John Cramer, director of public and media relations, said University Public Safety handled more than 745 calls for service as a result of the storm, which ranged from vehicle crashes to flooding to the evacuation of facilities.

"Over the past 12 hours, the University’s Shared Services Communication Center handled 2,800 telephone calls from community members," he said. "During the height of the storm occupants of several University facilities were relocated for their own safety and out of an abundance of caution."

Last night, 316 students were relocated from Lynton Tower South to the student center last due to flooding in the basement, and a number of other Rutgers facilities will continue to see operational changes today.

All Rutgers—New Brunswick libraries will return to a normal operating schedule today after being closed yesterday, with the exception of the Alexander Library on the College Avenue campus, which will remain closed due to flooding with the possibility of reopening on Saturday.

The Rutgers Student Center and the Student Activities Center on the College Avenue campus were both closed yesterday, the former suffering from a power outage and water in the basement, and it is currently unknown when they will reopen. While all student centers and dining halls remained open for at least part of the day yesterday, all recreation centers were closed but scheduled to reopen today.

"Many buildings had intermittent power outages that then required the resetting of equipment. Additionally, dozens of our buildings, like those in our communities and throughout New Jersey, suffered from water in basements and they required remediation," Devlin said. "Remediation includes not only removing the water but repairing and replacing equipment where necessary and then sanitizing the whole area to assure that no microbial material remains or is allowed to cultivate."

Various other services, including academic advising and mental health services, are currently operating remotely, and the deadline for add/drop has been extended to Sept. 10. 

Vemuri and Powell said the buses’ continued operations helped with the situation Wednesday night. Though, a few students said classes should have been canceled as opposed to just moved online.

“I don’t think the University was prepared because a lot of chaos ensued with students having to sleep in student centers and … most places losing power for hours on end,” said Michelle Tsinker, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. “I feel that they helped by making classes virtual which allowed us to feel safer, but some people are without power still, so I feel it should’ve have been canceled altogether.”

Vemuri said she wished the University had communicated more quickly with the Rutgers community as opposed to announcing morning classes would be canceled near midnight.

In regard to the University's facilities, Turiano said the University should make sure buildings are less susceptible to flooding, such as the Silvers Apartments on Busch campus, which experienced flooding in the bottom stairwell.

Both Powell and Vemuri said Rutgers was not ready for a weather crisis of a kind that is rare in the area.

“Was the University prepared? Absolutely not,” Vemuri said. “But I don't blame them. No one was prepared.”

Editor's Note: This article has been updated with additional reporting.


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