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Weekend Outage Strands Students

Freshmen, Adams residents spend night in Quincy, Science Center, MAC

The entire class of 2012 and Adams House residents were stranded Saturday night after a power outage caused by an electrical fire at the Plympton Street dormitory left students unable to return to their rooms.

Students spent the night in Quincy House, the Science Center, and on cots in the Malkin Athletic Center until power was restored early Sunday morning.

At around 8:20 p.m. Saturday, a power surge in Harvard Yard led to an electrical overload in the Adams House C entry high tension room. The surge created an electrical fire in the Adams basement and disrupted power in Adams and all the freshman dorms, according to Adams House Master John G. “Sean” Palfrey ’67, who was in touch with electricians and firemen arriving at the scene in the pouring rain.

First entryway meetings for all freshmen were abruptly thrown into darkness.

“We freaked out for two seconds, then everyone took out their cell phone,” said Enrique Nava ’12.

Though the electrical fire was quickly subdued, the power remained out until around 2:30 a.m., creating problems with safety services including ID-card access, the emergency blue light system, and emergency alarms. Students were asked to leave the dorms for the night, and were allowed back after the power came back on.

Around 9 p.m., Adams House residents were informed of the situation by e-mail and word-of-mouth. But it took the University longer to alert the freshman class, which was spread out at proctor meetings, in dark dorms, parents’ hotel rooms, and elsewhere in Harvard Square.

The message to evacuate Yard buildings traveled quickly, and word spread that freshmen should gather for a meeting in the Science Center. But it wasn’t until 12:20 a.m. that Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds told freshmen that cots were set up the Malkin Athletic Center for those who needed it and that the Science Center could act as a makeshift shelter for “as few of you as possible.”

“We’re working on back-up plans. There are weather challenges coming soon,” she said. “It’s not going to get better.”

Leaders from the First-Year International Program and the First-Year Urban Program also arrived to help as freshmen trickled through the Science Center doors.

“It’s like a hurricane. It’s like New Orleans,” said a passing freshman.

University President Drew G. Faust, Assistant Dean of the College John L. Ellison, and other administrators stood outside discussing what to do.

“Nobody was hurt,” Ellison said. But he added that “there’s no way we can know” how many freshmen were informed and directed to a place to stay, and how many were lost.

“It doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of information going on. It’s an interesting way to begin,” said Alex P. Raymond ’12 Saturday night. “I kind of wish I was still in [the First-Year Outdoor Program].”

But many freshmen in the science center said they were using the impromptu slumber party as a social opportunity. Students sat in small circles playing poker, Jenga, and other games. “A lot of games being played, a lot of friends being made,” said Brooks Lambert-Sluder, program manager of the Peer Advising Fellows Program.

“It’s a circumstance everyone seems to be okay with. There’s a lot of good humor, and I’m sure the problem will be solved soon,” Faust said in an interview.

Faust remained at the scene as freshmen headed out for the night, chatting with them past 1:30 a.m. At 1:33, as Hammonds was about to make an announcement, the lights came back on.

“Problem solved!” Faust proclaimed—just as the power went out again.

—Staff writer Vidya B. Viswanathan can be reached at viswanat@fas.harvard.edu.

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