Hollis Flooded; Police Estimate Damage at $80K

A first-year decision's to put a clothes hanger on his ceiling sprinkler head started a flood and caused an estimated $80,000 in damage to rooms in Hollis Hall last night.

When Dylan R. Nieman '98 tried to take a hanger off the head, he set off the building's sprinkler system and flooded six rooms with up to two inches of water.

"I've worked here in the Yard five days a week for the last three years, and I've never seen anything this bad," said University security guard Joseph C. Beck. "Never."

Students in Hollis Hall South spent much of last night unable to get into their dorm. Harvard Police Officer Thomas Hustus, who was on the scene, estimated the damage.

In removing the hanger, Nieman set off fire alarms in Hollis and Stoughton Halls. Both were completely evacuated, but Stoughton residents were allowed back in their rooms about 10 minutes after the 7:30 p.m. alarm.

Nieman said the activated sprinkler in his third-floor room first started spraying water, and then ejected a black-colored oil.

"The [alarm] on the third floor was the catalyst," Beck said. "The rest followed, one after the other."

Although Harvard police were on the scene almost immediately, the Cambridge Fire Department took about 15 minutes to arrive and turn off the alarms.

"The fire department should have gotten here earlier, but they didn't," said Anil K. Soni '98, whose first-floor room was flooded. "So we just have to deal with it."

The Department of Facilities and Maintenance dispatched an engineer, an electrician and two custodians to help with the mess.

The sprinkler flooded Nieman's room and those beneath it on the north side of Hollis South. Sprinklers in the other rooms on the floor merely dripped water, according to Harvard police officer Frank J. DiRienzo.

On the first floor, water dripped from joints where the ceiling and wood-panelled walls met and was a half-inch deep on the floor, residents said. On the third floor, water was about two inches deep, police said.

DiRienzo said officers scattered through the flooded rooms in an attempt to salvage valuables.

"Everything is plugged in--the fax machine, all the lights. If a student reached down now to pull the plug, he'd get electrocuted," Hustus said. "Every closet was definitely soaked."

"I tried to move a lot of stuff off the floor, but some of it was already wet," DiRienzo said.

Soon after the alarm, harried College officials announced plans to give all Hollis South students alternative lodgings in the luxurious Sheraton Commander Hotel.

"The [Hollis] rooms are not going to be habitable," said Associate Dean of Freshmen W.C. Burriss Young '55 at about 8:15 p.m. "It could be that we have to wait a little bit longer."

But as the initial furor died down, a calmer Dean of Freshmen Elizabeth S. Nathans announced at about 11 p.m. that all students could sleep in their waterlogged rooms.CrimsonBowell ChenWaterlogged items sit on the floor in one Hollis room.