In the ongoing battle of man vs. Mother Nature, Mother Nature remains undefeated.
Torrential downpours all weekend led to various points of flooding throughout the town of Fredonia and the SUNY Fredonia campus on Sunday night. The Buffalo Niagara International Airport reported 1.99 inches of accumulated rainfall between the hours of 12 a.m. and 11 p.m. It is estimated that even more came down on the town of Fredonia.
The rainfall was so severe that residents of two streets downtown, Norton Place and Canadaway Street, were ordered to evacuate their homes on Sunday night. Sarah Chamberlain, a resident who lives on Canadaway, was part of the crowd forced to relocate on Sunday.
“I got word that we needed to evacuate around 10 [p.m.],” said Chamberlain. “I don’t get the Fredonia emergency notifications sent to my phone, so I actually found out because my friends texted me and asked if I was okay.”
The emergency notifications referred to by Chamberlain were sent out at 9:54 p.m. on Sunday. Residents from Canadaway and Norton who were told to evacuate could seek refuge at the Forest Masonic Lodge, which sits at 321 East Main Street. However, the point of refuge wasn’t widely communicated to those who needed to evacuate.
“I went to a friend’s house and was fine,” said Chamberlain. “I really had no idea where they were sending people with no place to go.” Residents of Canadaway and Norton were free to re-enter their homes by roughly 7 a.m. Monday morning, as reported by Channel 2 in Buffalo. Town of Fredonia police declined comment regarding the decision to evacuate Norton and Canadaway.
Businesses of downtown Fredonia were also directly impacted by the flooding. Notably, Maria’s Pizzeria and Sunny’s bar endured the rising waters on Water Street.
“We went in and attempted to see how bad it was and at its worst there was probably a foot of water in there,” said Brianna Kirk, a bartender at Sunny’s. “Luckily there was no structural damage to the building itself. Darwin’s and Sunny’s have seen much much worse in the past.”
For fans of Fredonia’s night life who are wondering, Sunny’s will still be operating under full business hours this upcoming weekend.
“We will absolutely be open this weekend, normal hours starting Thursday. Today we are power washing to remove the mud and creek floor basically, and luckily it’s only Monday so we have a few days to dry out,” Kirk said.
The impact of the storm wasn’t held off campus, however. Centre Pointe was forced to close early due to an excess amount of water funneling into the Williams Center’s basement floor.
“With the ground saturated from several days of rain, it appears that the drain system was completely overwhelmed when the significant storm front came through last night,” explained Darin Schulz, who serves as the executive director of the faculty student association on campus. “The sewers could not handle all of the flow, and the water made its way down the stairs like a waterfall. Several inches of water flooded the entryway and the kitchen in Centre Pointe.”
Luckily, damage sustained in Centre Point was minimal. The dining center was reopened to students and resumed operating under normal hours on Monday morning at 11 a.m.
The overall effect of the storm on campus seemed to be limited to the Williams Center, as most of the residence halls and academic buildings around campus made it through the storm unscathed.
“We had a couple calls in the residence halls around campus for work orders,” said Kevin Hahn, the associate director of residence life. “Luckily there was no major flooding, and there was no widespread damage that we know of.”
Regarding the university’s protocols surrounding natural disasters and other states of emergency, president Virginia Horvath said that there is always room for improvement on campus with how we address different situations.
“Specifically on flooding, no,” said Horvath when asked about Fredonia having procedures in place in the event of flash floods on campus. “I can tell you that I am very interested in our campus efforts on emergency preparedness.
“There was a position a couple years ago where someone left, and we did not fill that position,” Horvath stated. “I think we really need a coordinator of emergency preparedness so we all know if there’s an alert.”
Western New York is uniquely situated as a part of the country with little to no threat of sincere natural disasters. Typically, the area is not at risk of enduring tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters. That said, the surprise flooding on campus Sunday was a reminder that there is still room for improvement on Fredonia’s campus to be ready in case of a worst-case scenario.
“We can always improve,” said Horvath. “Every situation like this is going to be different than one previously, so I don’t know that we can set in place specific procedures for every event that is like a flood. I would definitely like to bring in someone to act as a coordinator for emergency preparedness, and I think that will be a good first step.”