Testing the Waters: Ornelas Hall floods, displacing students

Brynna Williamson • Staff Editor

a photo of a room flooding in o-hall
Photo courtesy of Sarah Miyazaki

The evening of Aug. 19 started out normal for many of the students living in Ornelas Hall.

Residents were playing cards with friends, hanging out in common rooms, or sleeping. Although seemingly calm, chaos was about to be unleashed.

Student Monica Fajardo, who lived on the second floor before the flood, was heading to bed when her roommate burst into the room hyperventilating, saying that the dorm was flooding and they needed to

get out.

“She started saying ‘it’s flooding, the hallway is flooding,’” Fajardo explained.“I stood up and I was like, what are you talking about?”

However, it became clear exactly what her panicked roommate meant when she told Fajardo to look in the hallways, where they found water rushing down the hallways. The water quickly came into their room via the crack under the door.

“We panicked…we just started grabbing stuff that was on the floor and we put them on top of the bed,” Fajardo explained with a nervous chuckle. “Then the [Resident Assistants] came in our room...they were like ‘y’all have to get out.’”

The RAs quickly evacuated those on the second floors, consequently causing Fajardo and all other second floor residents to wade through the cold water to get outside. Shockingly, Fajardo said that not only was the water freezing cold, but there was also more of it than many had thought.

“All you could see was… like two to three inches of water in the hallways… you could see like little ripples in the water.” Fajardo said.

photo of hallway flooding in o-hall
Photo courtesy of Sarah Miyazaki

While those below waded through inches of standing water to evacuate the building, due to where the flood was located (in between the third and second floors), those living on the third floor initially had little or no idea of what was going on downstairs.

“I was playing cards with some friends… around 11:00 p.m. or 11:30 p.m., and then all of a sudden I hear the RA’s start pounding on everybody’s doors as they go down the hall, yelling ‘It’s time to evacuate, it’s time to evacuate!’” said third floor resident Jacob Groniga.

Groniga and his friends remained in their dorm for a moment trying to get their bearings.

“It was a very odd moment, because it was late at night, and nobody really knew what was happening,” he explained. “I opened my door, [saying] ‘What’s happening?’ and they replied with “O Hall’s flooding, we need to get you guys out of here.”

Adding to the confusion, Groniga said, “And I look around -- there’s no water anywhere!”

Regardless of his disorientation, Groniga and his friends were rushed out of their dorms.

Students were evacuated onto the lawn outside of O-Hall for a few hours, and were eventually told definitively by the RA’s and Dean of Students Andrew Pettee that Ornelas Hall had flooded, what had caused the flood, and that ServePro (a flood-service company) was on its way.

Although some students had both heard and circulated a rumor that the flooding was due to several toilets flushing at the same time, the rumor has since been proven to be false by virtue of the real reason being announced: according to the Dean of Students, the flood was officially due to a break in the A/C pipelines.

“One of the air chiller pipes, which cools the building, just gave way,” the Dean of Students confirmed. “It’s not anything that was preventable, [however]... Over the years the pressure builds up, and something like that can happen… it was just one of those unfortunate things that happens.”

He also clearly noted that there was no permanent damage. While the water did leak into some of the walls and ceiling tiles below, the damage was assessed for proper moisture levels by ServePro, and their recommendations carried out by the school.

“We replaced the carpet, and we [also replaced] the drywall so it would be livable,” Dean Pettee said.

Regardless of the good outcome, students admitted the fear and worries they had in the moment of the flood.

“I didn’t know what to think at that moment, because you don’t really expect anything like that to happen to you, you know?” Fajardo admitted. “Especially because I’m a freshman here, like it was my first year…I couldn’t even think about how I felt. It was just, like, shocking….I was terrified.”

The sudden onset of events left students with with questions and no place to stay.

“[It was] definitely a bit of a disruption…it definitely was not nice having everything up in the air, no place to call home for a few days,” Student Griffin White said.

Regardless of the initial fear, however, Fajardo as well as many other students were able to put a positive spin on the event.

“It was a weird first week, I’ll give you that much,” resident Owen Henson joked.

It taught Fajardo to be prepared for any possibility; it gave Groniga a chance to make and help new friends; it made White grateful that the flood happened before school began rather than happening in the middle of his classes; and it gave Henson a chance to upgrade his housing while still paying less.

“The most positive piece of it is that our students welcomed other students, and supported them. It was a very positive reaction to helping other students… Patriots care for others.” said Dean Pettee.

And the best part, to some?

A pizza party.

Dean Pettee has confirmed that the night of the flood, he promised the Ornelas Hall residents a pizza party— “an early evening where we can all just get together and laugh, and joke, and say ‘this was our first experience in the residence halls… we’ll just have pizza and talk.”

Although a date for that has not yet been set, the Dean has hinted that it will hopefully be soon.

A form to determine eligibility for financial reimbursement to replace items damaged or ruined by the flooding has been offered to all Ornelas Hall residents. Students who wish to learn more about the form may reach out to Dean Pettee’s office at studentsuccess@uttyler.edu.

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