Ice Storm Makes for a Long Night

Tony Rojas and the rest of Brenau's food service staff didn't let the power outage from an ice storm Monday, Feb. 16, get in the way of providing the students with three square meals.
Tony Rojas and the rest of Brenau’s food service staff didn’t let the power outage from an ice storm Monday, Feb. 16, get in the way of providing the students with three square meals.

Facilities manager Mike Hollimon knew it was going to be a long night Monday when members of the university maintenance staff were busy trying to remove an iced-over tree that had fallen across a car parked along Washington Street on the Gainesville campus when up rolled a satellite truck from WSB-TV in Atlanta. When you’re trying to get a stubborn chain saw started, that’s about the last thing you want see.

The weather, which downed power lines across a wide area of North Georgia, forced Brenau to cancel evening classes Monday and shut down all operations Tuesday and Wednesday in Gainesville. Norcross and Fairburn were also closed Tuesday but will re-open for business as usual on Wednesday.

20150217_icestorm_11The Brenau Gainesville crew already had been at work all day Monday preparing for the “contingency” that winter weather might cause problems on campus. As evening approached, those with Weather Bug apps on iPhones watched it unfold. That blue band signifying chilly rain moved diagonally across the map through the Hall County area with a little ball of pink, meaning ice, moving slowly along with it. Suddenly, as temperatures dropped, the little pink ball exploded to cover all of Hall and other counties. On the ground it looked like Elsa, the icy queen from the movie Frozen, turned the campus and surrounding environs into her private stomping grounds.

“It was eerie,” said CFO David Barnett, who came back to work at about 1 a.m. Monday, as he described the scene. The quiet winter sky around campus lit with frequent flashes of electric blue as ice-laden trees snapped and fell across power lines causing transformers on utility poles to short and explode.

Sara Sharples and Patrick Condon chat with Melinda Cassiday in the Yonah dinning hall which served as a student center as well as the dining hall in the aftermath of the ice storm that struck Gainesville Monday, Feb. 16, killing power to the university.
Sara Sharples and Patrick Condon chat with Melinda Cassiday in the Yonah dinning hall which served as a student center as well as the dining hall in the aftermath of the ice storm that struck Gainesville Monday, Feb. 16, killing power to the university.

Aside from losing electrical power throughout Tuesday, there was minimal damage on campus. One rain gutter on a building took a hit and two cars were covered by fallen limbs and tree parts. Once Hollimon’s guys got those uncovered, one vehicle had a broken windshield. Damage to the other, parked on the library parking lot, was anybody’s guess, says Barnett, because when the crew went back to it after daylight, whoever owned the car had driven away.

Students, however, seemed to take the whole thing in stride. Many of the Gainesville residential students whose families live close by, decamped for home on Monday night. About 160 remained on campus. Since the outage, dining services have remained available. Aramark “Chef AB” Bailey was in the dark kitchen early Tuesday morning stirring grits with a flashlight tucked under his arm. Later in the day, outdoor grills fired up. There were some common areas in the building for students to go and find some comfort.

Barnett, who remained on campus throughout Tuesday, said he has been very uplifted by the way students are reacting and taking this in stride. “They have been really positive,” he said, “and I’m very happy with the way they’ve been rolling with the punches.”

Crews worked to restore power to Brenau's historic Gainesville campus after an ice storm cut the schools power Monday, Feb. 16.
Crews worked to restore power to Brenau’s historic Gainesville campus after an ice storm cut the schools power Monday, Feb. 16.

Georgia Power crews arrived on the Gainesville campus early Tuesday afternoon and began all afternoon to get power back on. However, Gainesville was one of the hardest-hit areas with some 22,000 Georgia Power customers still without power as of about late Tuesday afternoon. By late Tuesday afternoon, with power still not restored, Brenau administration and student services personnel began making plans to throw a “slumber party” for any student who wished to go at the Brenau Downtown Center in Gainesville, where there was power. They’d have an early supper on campus, then get transported with their bedrolls to the Downtown Center for popcorn and movies. Breakfast was planned there for Wednesday morning and then a return to campus once the power was back up.

University officials also watched weather and power restoration efforts closely in Gainesville, Fairburn and Norcross. Stay tuned to the brenau.edu home page, e2Campus and social media for any developments regarding opening status for Wednesday, Feb. 18.

Check out a gallery with more pictures here. http://www.brenau.edu/inmotion/ice-storm-gainesville/