WEL evacuated after flooding

Just two weeks after opening its doors, the West-Edens Link closed them Sunday night for almost three hours after suffering severe flood damage from Building B's fire sprinkler system.

Sprinklers on the building's sixth floor stayed on for over an hour after a sprinkler head in a residential closet was knocked off. After waiting outside for most of the evening, most residents of the new dorm were eventually allowed to re-enter. The students whose rooms suffered the most extensive damage were forced to stay with friends and will be assigned temporary housing Monday, Duke University Police Sergeant Paul Taylor said.

"Only a handful of rooms on each floor were affected," WEL Residence Coordinator Stephanie Carter said. "We don't know where they will be relocated yet."

Most of the 350-person WEL incurred flood damage, said maintenance workers who were on the scene. Officials believed a change in water pressure--not fire--set off the sprinklers when they originally went off around 10 p.m., but they did not turn off the water until after 11 p.m. for procedural reasons, Taylor said.

The sixth-floor resident of the room where the accident occurred--who asked that she not be named for fear of retaliation--said black chemical fluid spewed from her closet's sprinkler after she hit it with a towel she was putting on the top shelf. Water then began to stream from the sprinklers both in her bedroom and in the sixth-floor halls.

Although officials said the water from the hall sprinklers spread to other rooms on the floor and to other floors via the elevator shaft and stairwells, that bedroom was the only one in which sprinklers went off.

When the resident's roommate went to see the room with police officers about 10 minutes after the sprinklers went off, she said the water was about four feet high. She said she did not know how much higher it had risen before officials turned it off.

One of their hallmates, sophomore Jenn Morales, said that when she heard the fire alarm, she thought someone was playing a joke.

"I was in my room and heard screaming and thought people were just messing around," Morales said. "I opened the door to yell at people to stop and saw the water coming down and I didn't know if it was a fire. I just put a towel in front of my door and left."

Other residents witnessed the flooding farther away from the source. "I just went and looked through the windows," junior David French said. "Everything is soaked. There are puddles in the hallways [of the lower floors] with waves, like streams."

While residents waited outside, many complained officials were not communicating with them what was going on.

"They are not keeping us well-informed of the situation at hand," sophomore Lauren Smith said. "We don't know if the water is off yet. We don't know if the administration will pay for our stuff."

Ironically, Building B serves as the "linked house" for the all-freshman Randolph Dormitory, which suffered similar flooding last spring after someone allegedly vandalized the fire alarm.

"It's routine," said WEL and former Randolph resident Geoff Lorenz, a sophomore. "Randolph is cursed."

Residents said Sunday night that the University did not pay for the damage they incurred last year and in fact charged their bursar accounts. Many students voiced concerns that they may have to pay for the damage caused by the hour-long sprinkling.

In addition to valuables, students worried about books and work being lost, though last year students in Randolph received dean's excuses. Other students approached being locked out from their rooms optimistically.

"It's a good excuse not to do homework, but what isn't?" junior David Parrott said.

Smith kept perspective while enduring the evacuation and the wait.

"No one died--everyone's alive," she said. "The worst thing that happened is books and things like that are wet. But we are all able to watch. Still, it kinda sucks."


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