The sign near the Safeway at Monroe and Wellesley said it all, if a bit crudely. Set against a disconcerting backdrop of massive downed trees, Volkswagen-sized root balls, and houses that had lost their corners and front porches, the hastily lettered sign said, simply, "Wind blows." Amen.
We don't generally mention weather phenomena in Whitworth Today – especially several months after the fact. But last November's windstorm was a rare beast (thank goodness), blowing in on a Tuesday morning and setting off alarms throughout the region. Whitworth's communications director, Nancy Hines, was summoned to a county safety meeting that morning at which she and communications chiefs from other schools and institutions throughout Spokane were warned of the coming destruction and told to send their employees home early. No one said, "Well, this could happen," or "It looks like we might be in for a big storm." They were stone-cold certain about the coming calamity.
It was breezy and cold when I arrived at work that morning, at 7:30, but I didn't check local news during the morning, so I was surprised to receive an email at around 11 a.m. suggesting that employees who could leave early should head home. That's the first time I realized that we were in for a major blow. Nancy was across campus, meeting with the facilities-services folks to monitor the situation, and Lauren Clark, our media relations manager, and I joked about the possibility of returning to a moonscape the next day.
Most Whitworthians were on their way home by 1 p.m. Students were snug in their residence halls. I drove Lauren over to facilities services, and we felt perfectly safe, not knowing that trees were already beginning to fall in The Loop.
My electricity went off about an hour after I got home. The winds, measured at speeds up to 71 mph, howled all night, and I could hear the cracking and thumping of big trees falling close by. Though my little house was spared, my block took a pretty good hit. Two garages across the street from me went down – one flattened, and one knocked crazily a-tilt by trees that had stood for decades. Houses down the street were damaged by flying branches and falling trees. One tree that fell across the road was so mammoth that it took three days for a corps of workers to remove it, bit by bit. The neighborhood was without power for eight long, cold days. In fact, as many as 205,000 Spokane-area households were without power during the storm and its aftermath.
Whitworth lost 120-plus trees, many of them in The Loop. Several buildings were damaged. Miraculously, no one was hurt (though, sadly, two people in Spokane were killed by falling trees). Students took the storm in stride, as students will do, and some were moved to halls other than their own while cleanup took place and electricity was restored. The university offered free meals to employees and to off-campus students whose homes were damaged and/or without power. Our facilities folks were incredible. They began dealing with the effects of the wind while the storm still raged, and they had the campus up and running in record time.
Now we're getting used to Whitworth's new look. Don't worry: The campus is still beautiful. The little triangle of lawn right across from Whitworth Church, near the bus stop, where there used to be several fully grown Ponderosas, now has none. But the small pines remain, and the land has been leveled and seeded. It's really quite pretty. (The two brick-and-brass "Whitworth University" signs in the triangle survived unscathed. A sign of our indomitability, no doubt.) Hardwick House lost several trees, yet the building and its surroundings are as inviting as ever. The library took a hit, but you'd never know it now. The Loop looks different; I won't lie. But it's okay: We're getting used to the open spaces, and we know that planned future plantings will bring it back to its full glory.
Just as we did with Ice Storm, in 1996, and with other calamities that have befallen this institution over its long history, the community rallied to deal admirably with what could have been an unmitigated disaster. Whitworth is unsurpassed at pulling together in a crisis. Many people went far above and beyond their job descriptions to be sure that their fellow Whitworthians were safe and warm and well-informed. And now that the damage is repaired, the replanting begins. God is good, and Whitworth is strong – even though wind certainly does blow.
I hope you enjoy this issue of Whitworth Today.