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Stanford Report, February 4, 1998

Long night for librarians as basements flood: 2/4/98

All-nighter for librarians as basements flood


Heavy rainstorms caused extensive flooding on campus early Tuesday, closing several buildings and prompting hundreds of staff and students to work through the night to save wet library books and archives.

"It's considerably worse than we thought at first," said President Gerhard Casper as he toured the flooded basements of Green and Meyer libraries and Braun Music Center with University Librarian Michael Keller and Provost Condoleezza Rice. "We will have to look at what we can do to cope as well as we can for the second round" of rain expected later this week.

No estimates have yet been made about the extent of the damage but, Keller said, if heavy storms return, the campus will be prepared because material potentially in harm's way already will have been moved.

"The kids and the community really pulled together," said Keller. At 3:30 a.m. on Tuesday, he said, about 150 students worked in Green moving about 120,000 books from the basement. Dozens of library staff members also toiled through the night. "This was an enormously powerful response," Keller said.

It is unclear when power will be restored to Green and Cubberley School of Education, which are both closed, or when normal operating hours will resume. The university canceled classes on Tuesday.

How to report emergencies:

  • To report a non-life-threatening situation involving building damage, leaks, blocked storm drains, fallen trees, etc., call Stanford Facilities Operations at 723-2281.

  • To report a life-threatening emergency dial 911.

  • For Stanford emergency bulletins dial 5-5555

Elsewhere on campus, seven graduate students in Crothers Hall were evacuated late Monday as water flooded their basement rooms. Broken branches cluttered campus roads and walkways and a eucalyptus tree crushed two cars in the Mudd Chemistry parking lot. Near Webb Ranch, a 250-year-old oak tree fell over, said Grounds Manager Herb Fong. The faculty housing area and nine residential row houses lost power Monday, but it was restored on Tuesday. The Cogen plant stopped operating briefly early Tuesday but was backed up with power from Pacific Gas & Electric.

Karen Nagy, deputy university librarian, said in some ways the flood has been worse for the library than the 1989 earthquake because it has demanded an immediate, well-planned response. "In a triage sense this is more frantic," she said.

Nagy said that sometime between midnight, when Green Library East closed, and 1 a.m., water burst through a wall separating the East from the West part of the library, which is under reconstruction. Steve Mischissin from Facilities Operations said heavy rain simply overwhelmed the storm-drain system, causing the overflow.

"[The water] went from nothing to eight inches deep in an hour," Nagy said, pointing to a basement wall in Green that had been torn apart by the weight of the water behind it. "When I walked through the door it was like a river in here," she said. "The sound was deafening."

Nagy said that she called her daughter, Monika Nagy, a sophomore living in Florence Moore, to come help. About 50 students from the same dorm also responded. Soon, e-mail messages and calls brought in more volunteers from across campus and the wider Stanford community. "We've had people here through the night," Nagy said. "They've been incredible."

By mid-morning on Tuesday, dozens of weary-looking staff and students moved about the foyer of Green, boxing books passed up the stairs from person-to-person from the wet, muddy basement.

"It feels good to get the books out," said 11-year-old Eli Isaacs, who came to Green to help his mother, staff member Karen Kalinsky, after the schools in Palo Alto closed on Tuesday.

Freshman Maggie Reyes, wet up to her calves from working in the basement, said that she came to Green after she woke up at 8 a.m. and read an e-mail reporting that the major libraries were flooded. Joanne Klock, who works in Meyer, said many students like Reyes had turned up. "I think it's so cool they want to help," she said. Down in the basement, people from Facilities Operations like plumber Alfredo Pierre used large window wipers to push water up a slope to a pump sucked that it away. "We've been working all over campus," he said.

In the basement of Meyer and in Braun, the same rescue scene repeated itself. Meyer was affected by the overflow from Green and from a waist-high flood in a machine room that burst through a door and a wall into the foreign bibliographies section, scattering pamphlets and books throughout the basement. "God, I can't believe this," said Chuck Eckman, head of the government documents library, as he walked through the muddy mess.

Assistant archivist Richard Koprowski said he was working in the basement of Braun late Monday night when water started to seep up from the floor. "At 11:30 p.m., all hell broke loose," he said. "We're really trying to deal with a very bad situation. We're in heavy triage." Braun staff members had to throw away about 10,000 wet LP records, including duplicate recordings that had not yet been catalogued, to save the rest of the collection. Despite the difficult situation, Koprowski said, what impressed him was the students who showed up to help. "We couldn't have done it without them," he said.

Assistant conservator Walter Henry said that the wet books in Green, mostly forming part of the university's general collection, will be taken to a cold-storage facility in Union City and frozen. Later, he said, the books will be sent to a San Francisco company called Document Reprocessors to be freeze-dried to remove the water. Apart from about a dozen boxes containing Hebrew and Yiddish materials, Keller said, the damaged books are unusual but not rare. "Replacing them will definitely be an issue," he said. "We imagine we're going to lose a lot of books."