For residents, last night's flood of Hollis Hall South started off as just another fire drill.
"We figured it was a fire alarm," said Sinju K. Swami '98. "Then we saw the water pouring down the stairwells, and we went outside."
Most, in the middle of normal Friday night activities, were surprised by the 7:30 p.m. alarm.
"I was standing in the shower," said Patricia J. Roylance '98. "I heard this loud, strident, increasing noise and saw a flashing light, and I thought, what the fuck?"
Shaik M. Sarmad '98 was settling in for a quiet night of study when the shrieking alarm began. He didn't even realize there was a flood, he said.
Even Dylan R. Nieman '98, who set off the alarm when he tried to remove a hanger from his room's ceiling sprinkler head, didn't immediately know the full effect of his actions.
"I didn't realize I had set off the whole building," he said. "My first thought was to make sure the stuff in my room didn't get soaked. Then I started to run around the dorm telling people not to worry, it wasn't a fire."
Alice M. Lee '98 didn't know the flood started in Nieman's room until she went upstairs to rescue his computer.
"I went up the stairs and I tried to get into Dylan's room," she said. "It was like a huge shower coming out of the door, and you couldn't get in without getting soaked."
Residents said the building smelled like smoke and tar because of the oil that initially sprayed out of Nieman's sprinkler with the water.
On the first, second and third floors of Hollis South, the bathrooms were dotted with dirty brown puddles. Three rooms also lost phone service.
Several students said their belongings were damaged.
"Last year my sister gave me a leather-bound [book of] 13th and 14th century [poetry]," said Anil K. Soni '98, whose room is on the first floor. "Nothing else in this room mattered to me more than that book."
Soni said some computer equipment was also harmed.
"I turned my printer upside down, and it just poured water," he said.
By midnight, most Hollis South residents were back in their rooms, showering, talking or sleeping off the day. Few seemed to have relished the evening spent out-of-doors.
"It just basically sucks," said Soyoun K. Song '98.
Nieman, who inadvertently caused the entire mess, planned to spend today at a bar mitzvah in Montreal, Canada.
In fact, the item of clothing hung on the sprinkler head was the tuxedo shirt he had laid out for the ceremony.
"I'm definitely sorry for the hassle, and for any damage done," Nieman said. He will preserve the oil-stained t-shirt he was wearing at the time, he said.
"I think I'll save the shirt as a testimony to my stupidity," he said.