Damage at Shaw sends students home

Staff WriterApril 18, 2011 

— Hours after scrambling off campus to escape a devastating storm, students at Shaw University returned Sunday, only to gather their belongings and head home. They won't return for months.

Classes at Shaw are canceled, and the university is closed for the remainder of spring semester as a result of Saturday's storm, which dismantled buildings on the school's downtown campus and displaced almost 150 students.

"The campus is difficult to navigate, trees are down and glass is everywhere," Shaw President Dr. Irma McClaurin said Sunday. "... Many students are in shock."

Shaw officials said a tornado touched down directly over the quad between 4 and 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

Two students were taken to the hospital with injuries. Others were forced to take refuge for the night in the gymnasium at Southeast Raleigh High School.

Tia Morgan, a senior, was one of many students who returned Sunday morning to find the historic campus shredded by strong winds. Trees were toppled, dorms were damaged, and the student center was roofless.

She was finishing homework in the lobby of the Dimple M. Newsome dormitory on Saturday when the building lost power. Morgan then saw several students running across the quad to enter the building's front doors.

"People were screaming because it took us a while to get the door open because the wind was holding it shut," Morgan said.

'Glass was flying'

Shaw junior Alfonza Deans was in the buffet line for his second cheeseburger at the Willie E. Gary Student Center cafeteria when the building's top blew off Saturday.

"Everybody was eating dinner, probably around 4 or 4:15 (p.m.) when the lights cut off," Deans said. "People were running back into the kitchen to get in the freezer and ladder well. Then, all of a sudden, the (front) windows busted and glass was flying everywhere inside the cafeteria.

"I don't think we were prepared for it," Deans said. "How many people know of a tornado hitting in the middle of a city?"

By noon Sunday, crews were salvaging what was left of the student center. Shaw has not determined whether it will be renovated or razed.

Nearly every building on campus suffered roof damage, university officials said. Even the galvanized copper roof was peeled off of Shaw's Estey Hall office building.

The cost of repairing Shaw's campus remains unclear. Shaw, the oldest historically black college in the South, has struggled financially in recent years.

The 145-year-old university announced in 2009 that it was burdened with $20 million in debt. That year, Interim President Dorothy C. Yancy helped secure a $31 million federal loan to keep the doors open for the school's 2,700 students.

While McClaurin was pleased to announce Sunday that the spring graduation ceremony will go on as planned May 7 at Dorton Arena, others worried that the storm may prevent them from walking across the stage.

No exams

The semester was set to end after eight days of classes and a one-week exam period.

Instead, students will be graded on the work they've completed to date.

That could be bad news for Tamara Newman, a biology major who was depending on a final exam to raise her grade in a class. Without the exam, she may not graduate this year, as she had hoped.

"I don't feel that they're handling this correctly," said Newman's mother, Elisa Newman of Delaware. "... You've got seniors who aren't gong to graduate.

"They're not going to reimburse them for the semester."

Staff writer Jack Hagel contributed to this report.

aspecht@newsobserver.com or 919-836-5758

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