By Kate MendelsohnArkansas Media Relations
The constant sound of falling branches, falling trees, falling ice, falling wires and falling power poles echoed in the Ozarks the week of January 26, 2009. Thousands felt the cold as a whirlwind of ice blind-sided Northwest Arkansas, covering the city and streets in a blanket of glittering ice. Freezing rain knocked out electricity and left homes and businesses without power. No heat or water. No computers.
The catastrophic storm shutdown classes and business operations at the University of Arkansas for four days. It is only the 19th time during the history of the university to cancel class due to inclement weather. While the magnitude of the ice storm left the University of Arkansas in an extremely trying time, it also brought out the very best in the students and faculty who volunteered their time to help their community. A coalition of University of Arkansas students and faculty members teamed together to restore the campus’ beauty.
“The damage was unprecedented for this campus,” said Mike Johnson, Associate Vice Chancellor for Facilities. “There were downed branches across the sidewalks, blocking the entrance to buildings. Some sidewalks had trees, bent by the weight of the ice, just hanging over them, waiting to break. It was dangerous to even walk around campus. That was the prime reason classes were cancelled Thursday and Friday. But our crews kept working.”
In a blackout with much uncertainty, the University of Arkansas proved to take pride in being a Razorback. The Associated Student Government hosted “Campus Restoration Day” on February 5, 2009. Over 700 student and faculty volunteers helped with the restoration day, to clean up debris, remove tree limbs and other damages left by the storm. Students teamed together to clean up the remains left from the ice storm on the University of Arkansas’ campus, littered with broken trees, tree branches and broken power lines.
“The students, faculty and staff who volunteered Thursday afternoon the week following the storm to help clean up debris saved us hundreds of man-hours and literally thousands of dollars,” Johnson said.
Heroes from every level of the University turned out for a day of service including, Chancellor G. David Gearhart, Vice Chancellor Jeff Long, staff from the division of Student Affairs and many other various organizations, including ASG, Greek life, Volunteer Action Center and student-athletes from all 19 sports teams.
“I would like commend all of the student-athletes, volunteers, and members of the community who contributed to the recovery,” Assistant Athletic Director for Student Life, Marvin Caston said. “In a difficult time, our student-athletes jumped in and worked hard to aid their peers to get back on their feet. I am proud to be a Razorback and to be part of an organization that is so willing to give back.”
Student volunteers were a critical part of the campus’s recovery from the storm; so many went beyond the call of duty to ensure that Arkansans were kept safe. The full scopes of the damages to the University of Arkansas’ campus were estimated to cost an approximate $700,000 with every expectation to increase. Through the hard work and countless hours of students cleaning debris, cutting trees and clearing pathways, the University of Arkansas was able to cut costs and begin to restore the campus. As a result of the 2009 ice storm, emergency-response officials estimated that nearly 80,000 homes across the northwest corner of Arkansas were without electricity at the depth of the ice storm’s damage, and more than 200,000 were believed to be without power across all of northern Arkansas. Northwest Arkansas was at a standstill and unprepared for the damages that devastated so many. It was a shining moment for the University of Arkansas’ student body as they took an active role in a commitment to clean up the campus together.
“It is quite rewarding to see this many volunteers coming together for a common cause,” Caston said. “What a great warm feeling it is to be part of a team dedicated to helping one another with the ability to restore the beauty of our campus. It is truly amazing to see the impact you can make when you come together and make a difference.”
Although the damages were catastrophic restoration was possible, thanks to the valiant efforts of the student body, faculty, ASG, members of the football, basketball, soccer, softball and tennis teams… the real heroes of the Ice Storm.
Chancellor Gearhart said it best, “Yet another example of the unwavering spirit of a Razorback and the dedication of so many to our university.”