Semester begins despite a torrential downpour, collapsed transportation system and flooded dorms

Sept. 1 was the fifth-rainiest day in New York City’s recorded history. The remnants of Hurricane Ida passed through the city, causing flash floods and leaving at least 43 dead. Students reported flooding at numerous residence halls, while others were stranded at NYU Welcome events.

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Shaina Ahmed

On September 1, a flash flood emergency was declared for New York City from the heavy rains from the remnants of Hurricane Ida. Many NYU students reported flooding in Lower Manhattan residence halls. (Staff Photo by Shaina Ahmed)

By Arnav Binaykia and Rachel Fadem

New York City was pummeled by the remnants of Hurricane Ida on Wednesday evening, Sept. 1. The city declared its first-ever flash flood emergency, with Mayor Bill de Blasio urging residents to “stay off the streets.” At least 43 people died in the storm, according to The New York Times.

Across NYU’s campus buildings in Lower Manhattan, water streamed into students’ bedrooms, basements and boots. Propelled by powerful gusts of wind, heavy droplets of rain appeared to fall from every direction, pouring into the subway, flooding roads and city airports and forcing them to close.

Transportation worries cast a shadow over the first day of classes

The first day of class of the fall 2021 semester begins today, Sept. 2, but due to disrupted public transportation across the city, many students and faculty have been unable to make it to campus. While some classes are continuing in person as planned, others have been moved online or canceled altogether.

In an email sent at 6:45 a.m. on Thursday, Executive Vice President Martin Dorph and Campus Safety Vice President Fountain Walker informed the NYU community that there was no significant damage to university property due to the storm. They also noted that — as of the time the email was sent — Dorph and Walker were unaware of any community members being injured.

The MTA website shows many lines suspended or experiencing delays after Hurricane Ida.

“The University will be open,” the email stated. “NYU buildings will be open, and classes will proceed. Where classes and operations can be held in-person, they should proceed in-person.”

The university recognized that traveling to campus may be impossible for some members of the NYU community and urged faculty to be accommodating given the circumstances. However, employees in roles deemed essential were required to report to work.

“In all instances, individuals should use their good judgment and be cautious about traveling,” the email said.

The entirety of the New York City subway system suspended operations during the height of the storm, and the MTA website noted that many sections are yet to be reopened or are experiencing severe delays. Videos posted on social media showed immense amounts of rainwater gushing through train cars, buses and subway stations, and some passengers were stranded on platforms or trapped between stations for hours before rescue crews were able to conduct evacuations.

Multiple residence halls flood only days after move in

WSN spoke to students residing at Brittany Hall, Carlyle Court, Gramercy Green, Lipton Hall and Rubin Hall — all of which experienced some amount of flooding.

Keller’s ceiling in Gramercy Green showed water damage. (Photo by Jacob Keller) (Jacob Keller)

Gallatin sophomore Jacob Keller, who lives at Gramercy Green, noticed water seeping out of the ceiling of his room and immediately submitted a report. Building staff, however, said that there was nothing they could do except provide Keller and his roommate with extra towels to soak up the water.

“I understood that maybe they couldn’t help because they may not have the equipment, or have the experience or the knowledge of how to fix a leaking ceiling — because that’s not necessarily an easy fix,” Keller said. “But it was still a bit annoying, having the ceiling leaking, while they were there and them throwing up their hands and saying, ‘Oh just leave it like that.’”

Keller added that there is now a stain on his ceiling due to the water damage.

After attending an NYU Welcome event, Tisch first-year Sofia Canale returned to Lipton Hall to hear that water was flooding into the basement laundry rooms.

“Luckily we got home safe, and didn’t have to take the subway,” Canale said.

Meanwhile, at Carlyle Court, significant amounts of water could be seen collecting in the building’s courtyard. Students residing as high as the seventh floor reported that approximately two inches of water accumulated in their rooms, damaging furniture and belongings.

Welcome Leaders and event attendees left stranded after sudden cancellations

Several NYU Welcome events, which are slated to continue through the first weeks of the fall 2021 semester, were scheduled to take place on Wednesday evening, including a marquee event — the Professional Comedy Show — which was to be attended by hundreds of students.

A Welcome Leader who requested anonymity was scheduled to staff an event at the Tandon School of Engineering on Wednesday night. They arrived shortly before the flooding began. Soon after their arrival, the student and other Welcome Leaders noticed that water was beginning to flood the train station and the streets outside of the MetroTech Center.

“People were bringing up that there was a flash flood warning and a tornado warning and [asked] what should people be doing,” the anonymous Welcome Leader said. “Their response was very Manhattan campus-based — from the professional staff hired by NYU. They basically just told them, ‘Oh, we’re not going to do anything right now — the Kimmel building staff would let us know what to do when [they have a plan].”

Since many of the Welcome Leaders at Tandon were Washington Square students, they were not familiar with the Brooklyn campus and were unaware of building safety measures and evacuation procedures. Supervisors reportedly told Welcome Leaders that they should make their own decisions about whether to cancel events and direct attendees to return home or continue as planned.

According to the student, Welcome Leaders were told during training that students would be reimbursed for taxi fares if “the situation warranted it.” However, as students began requesting Ubers and Lyfts to safely return home, their supervisors said that the situation was not critical and they should take the subway home instead.

“A lot of people were reporting that professional staff were kind of walking away from them, and just not answering,” the Welcome Leader said.

Some attendees — who had seen flooding in the subway, in person and online — later created a group chat with Welcome Leaders and professional staff, hoping for safety-related questions to be answered. It was only after images of subway evacuations were shared that students were told that they would be reimbursed for taxis. 

“It just wouldn’t be safe to take the subway home,” she added. “We couldn’t walk — of course — none of us lived in Brooklyn. The Ubers were between $70 to $130. We couldn’t really afford to pay for it ourselves.”

Welcome Leader Elena Pirro, a Steinhardt sophomore, was assigned to staff the Professional Comedy Show at the Global Center for Academic and Spiritual Life — next to the Kimmel Center — when the storm began. After mobile emergency alerts sounded, warning of a possible tornado and flash floods, students began leaving the first of two shows scheduled for the night. However, as the storm intensified during the second show, Welcome Leaders were told by their supervisors that they should encourage students to shelter in place instead of attempting to return home.

At first, the students congregated in the basement auditorium where the show was being held and distanced themselves from windows, but as water began leaking into the basement, groups had to be evacuated to higher floors. The Welcome Leaders attempted to contact Campus Safety unsuccessfully for hours before shuttle buses were finally dispatched to Brooklyn.

“This is about their safety,” Pirro said about the students. “It’s at a school-led event. It’s not them deciding to go out and party the day before the first day of classes — they’re at an academic building.”

Pirro added that since Welcome Leaders are student volunteers, they should not be held responsible for the safety of Welcome event attendees. Instead, she believes that there should be established protocol to be followed in the case of a similar emergency.

“We were just trying to figure out transportation for students, but there were also Welcome Leaders who had to get back to Queens and Brooklyn as well,” Pirro added. “We’re all students — we’re not staff members. [It’s] like you’re worrying about the safety of the students that you were watching over, but you also had to figure out what you were doing. It was really stressful.”

Canale attended the Professional Comedy Show and said they appreciated the vigilance and level-headedness of NYU staff and Welcome Leaders.

“It was just kind of hectic,” Canale said. “Everyone handled it really well. Nobody was freaking out or panicking, at least not outwardly. I felt like [the Welcome Leaders] made us calm enough to just be like, ‘OK yeah we’re just gonna leave,’ but not in a get out of here kind of way.”

Gianna Jirak, Kashish Bhatia, Lauren Ashe and Rachel Cohen contributed reporting.

Contact Arnav Binaykia at [email protected] and Rachel Fadem at [email protected]