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Campus hit hard by storms

Ken Fowler and Kaitlynn Riely | Friday, May 18, 2007

Strong winds associated with the line of severe thunderstorms that passed just north of campus Tuesday knocked off one of the four minor spires from the bell tower of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart and damaged dozens of trees just days before graduation activities were set to begin.

The front-left spire on the main tower of the Basilica fell to the ground amid straight-line wind gusts just before 5 p.m. The spire moved west as it fell and shattered southeast of the Basilica’s main entrance.

Witnesses said Notre Dame Security/Police (NDSP) responded within minutes after the spire collapsed from the Basilica. The area outside of the Basilica and the main dome was cordoned off with caution tape, and officers told onlookers to stay away from the scene.

University spokesman Dennis Brown said Wednesday the University would have a structural engineer inspect the area around the lost spire, as well as the three remaining spires, to evaluate their structural integrity.

Brown said 23 trees on North Quad were blown down or suffered such significant damage that they would need to be torn down. He said an additional seven trees near the Grotto were similarly destroyed by the storm, though many trees that lost large branches appeared stable elsewhere on campus.

The University would not have any cost estimates on the damage to the Basilica or the landscape on campus until after The Observer’s Wednesday press time, Brown said.

He said he did not know of any comparable structural damage to the Basilica in recent history.

“They’ll evaluate each tree in terms of whether it’s a danger – whether it’s a risk in terms of falling on its own in any other winds,” Brown said.

Brown said Superintendent of Landscape Services Bill Thistlethwaite told him that the storm fatally damaged more trees than any storm in Thistlethwaite’s 30-year career.

Brown said the University was expediting the clean-up process and hoped to finish by today. He said the time frame for removing damaged trees would be in the “weeks,” though the possibility for repairs to the Basilica would take much longer.

Elsewhere on campus, the glass casing of a lamppost between Siegfried Hall and Pasquerilla West Hall lay shattered on the ground amid fallen branches Wednesday.

“Most of the severe damage occurred on the northern side of campus,” Brown said. “We’re not aware of any major damage elsewhere.”