Storm cleanup at Sweet Briar continues, with significant progress being made by physical plant staff and other employees who have worked through most of the week without power to ready the campus for regular business on Monday. The College also is prepared to welcome band camps and other summer programs due to arrive on Sunday.
Power should be restored to the entire campus by Saturday. As of Friday afternoon, a power company crew was working to repair downed lines on Dairy Road. Power was turned on to most of the buildings on campus east of Prothro Hall by Thursday afternoon, six days after a powerful storm struck the area at about 9:45 p.m. June 29.
The College suffered downed power lines and trees across much of the campus as a result of the windstorm that swept across the Eastern U.S. Friday, carrying winds up to 80 miles an hour. The storm system is known as a super “derecho” — straight-line winds associated with strong thunderstorms that travel across hundreds of miles. Friday’s storm originated around Chicago and didn’t stop until it reached the Atlantic. It left millions in the dark across numerous states and claimed 13 lives in Virginia alone.
There was some structural damage on campus as well, including a home on Dairy Road when a tree fell on a closed-in porch. A branch also impaled the roof into a bathroom. Although assistant English professor Dave Griffith and his family were home at the time, no one was injured. Just really scared, said Jessica Mesman, Griffith’s wife.
It was “madness and mayhem,” Mesman said, as winds howled and they watched a tree fall onto their sunroom. The family rode out the storm in a pantry, the safest room they could find in the two-story brick house. They couldn’t recall hearing a transformer across the road blow out over the wind and sound of trees snapping and crashing to the ground.
Lines hung limply from the transformer throughout the week, until a crew was able to get to the repair late Friday. It accounted for the power outage on that side of campus.
Griffith, an Illinois native, has been through violent storms before. It didn’t sound like a tornado to him, just a strong thunderstorm. But it was anything but normal.
“The unusual thing was how prolonged it was,” he said. “It was just non-stop wind for about an hour and a half.”
He spent much of that time on the phone with students in BLUR, the summer arts program that he directs. The program ended a week early due to the power outage and intense heat, which meteorologists expect to last through Sunday.
That’s about the time people in the storm’s path who are still in the dark can expect to hear generators shut down and air conditioners crank, thankfully, to life.