JOHN SAAVEDRA JR.
Student Voice Editor
1- We are setting up shop in the Ferguson Recreation Center after Hurricane Sandy knocked down most of the power grid in the Northeastern corner of New Jersey. She brought with her winds that tore down several trees on campus and blew several transformers.
The night of the hurricane, the dark sky flashed green as the transformers went, leaving every single residence hall in pitch black silence.
Hundreds of FDU students weathered the storm in their dark rooms, hallways or outside in their bathing suits.
Some students spent the night standing at their windows, sending each other messages in Morse code across Twombly Road.
Alcohol was prevalent in most residence halls as students indulged themselves in a little liquid courage. Residents ran from room to room after the lights went out, Solo cups in hand. The hallways were filled with laughter. As we would learn later in the week, there was enough alcohol in dorm rooms to keep bored residents drunk for days.
Others decided to have fun with a Ouija board styled out of a piece of cardboard and quarter for a planchette. One of the students couldn’t go to bed that night because he was afraid a malevolent spirit was following him around. Outside his window was the high-pitched singing of the wind and he thought maybe it was a ghost.
2- Morale after the storm is high.
It is the next day, Tuesday, and the Earth breathes softly. The calm after the storm is surreal.
A world without electricity is a different world and it makes students feel as if they have weathered a reality storm and not the monster storm that ate away at buildings and destroyed boardwalks (images of the brownstone without a face in New York City and the floating rollercoaster in Seaside Heights come to mind). It is a quiet world.
We are asked to move to the recreation center because the residence halls cannot sustain resident students without power. Students are given black garbage bags to pack their bedding, clothing and toiletries. They tell us to pack for three days.
There is an immediate rush for electrical outlets in the rec center. Students hurry, unloading their laptops and cell phones and bedrolls, claiming areas on the gym floor near outlets. They connect their power strips so that they can charge their electronics.
People, such as one girl who sits next to a group of resident assistants, spend the day miserable because they didn’t get to an outlet in time. The girl decides to go home and try her luck in the real world.
The crisis and the evacuation in its aftermath have inspired the ingenuity of the student body, who remove couches from the rec center lobby and create makeshift living rooms in the gym. These students will later pull off the cushions from the couches to use as beds and pillows.
They haul over their televisions from their rooms and their video game consoles and their stereos.
One group of girls carries in mattresses.
The displaced are excited for the new experience: a giant sleepover with their friends, indoor camping with food and water and heat and wi-fi. People bring several bags of snacks or containers full of food from the cafeteria, which is serving food for free and allowing everyone to take their meals to-go.
The gym is loud with laughter and music and the shifting of furniture. Students play basketball on the wide-open courts for hours.
Quickly the novelty of this strange event begins to wear off.
There are frustrated students who didn’t bring anything soft to sleep on and are forced to lie on the wooden floors. They cover themselves with thin blankets. Luckily, they’ve brought pillows.
One student walks around bothering some of the others. He wears a mask of a giant horse’s head and carries a long wooden staff. People stare as he creeps up on them.
It is such a weird day that no one complains.
Finally, one of the resident assistants tells him to take the mask off. He says it several times until the student complies.
“Sorry about this,” the student says, carrying his staff limply.
3- The night was long.
Students slept little. They rolled around their bedrolls for hours or spent the night on their laptops. They talked, updating each other on the destruction and sharing photographs posted on Facebook.
“Look at Seaside Heights!” a student said to another. It was a picture of the rollercoaster in the ocean.
“Look at La Guardia!” The runway was completely flooded.
When the staff finally turned off the lights, it was quiet. Some students had been complaining about the people playing basketball because it was late and the balls kept bouncing into their camps, so they were grateful.
It’s late Wednesday morning. Students await more news from the staff.
“I hope there’s no class tomorrow,” someone says. She has a test the next day and would rather be home because she wasn’t able to study due to all the noise in the gym. Her mother just informed her that there’s power at their home in Jackson, a few miles from the Jersey shore.
When the announcement arrives – that the rec center will be closing and students who wish to stay on campus will be moved to the student center – students begin to plan their next move.
Some students panic and start shouting at their friends: “They’re closing the rec center. We have to leave now!”
The urgency isn’t felt by most of the residents in the gym.
They lazily pick up their stuff, move couches back into the lobbies, and wipe sleep off their faces.
More students on the phone.
Most go home.
By Wednesday night, there are fewer than 60 students and a couple of staff members residing in the student center. These remaining students live out-of-state or have no way of being picked up by family members.
“I don’t have any gas to get home,” one student says.
“My family is in Connecticut,” another student says. “They got hit pretty hard up there.”
They must console themselves with the fact that the student center has power and wi-fi, heating and free food and snacks in the cafeteria and a table full of candy and Halloween movies projected onto a screen in the middle of the first floor mall.
Of course, in our current state of limited resources after the storm, who knows how long that will last. Talk of the town is that if the generators run out of juice, students will be forced to move to the Teaneck campus until power is restored at Florham.
Lots of people don’t want that to happen. They talk in circles, declaring themselves rebels: “If we’re being moved to Teaneck, I’m not going.”
4- On Thursday, my last day on the evacuated campus, the school holds its very own rescue operation.
Staffers hurry to all dorm rooms with the intention of removing any perishables that students left behind. The objective is to rescue mini-fridges from decay and odors.
At this point, the staff does not expect to have power back on campus until Sunday. This is bad news for hopeful students who wish to go back to their rooms. By Friday, they will be transported to Drew University to take showers.
As the staff goes through each and every room, they make two discoveries:
1) There is an unexpected amount of alcohol in the residence halls. One room reportedly has five or six handles of hard alcohol. Another room has 23 cans of beer. The staff takes room numbers down, but the amount of alcohol becomes unfathomable.
2) Many students abandoned their pet fish during the evacuation. The staff rescues as many fish as they can, carrying the bowls full of dirty, stinking water (turning yellow) into the office. They transport all the goldfish into one big tank full of clean water. The fighting fish have their own tanks. The staff, sad looks on their faces, say that they weren’t able to save all the fish. Some float silently on the water’s surface.