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Severe weather disrupts campuses

Meghanne Downes | Wednesday, August 27, 2003

A tornado warning for St. Joseph’s County temporarily affected daily operations in the South Bend area Tuesday, including those at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s.

Mike Hoffman, WNDU-TV’s chief meteorologist, said that while the tornado sirens went off at approximately 2:30 p.m. and 3:40, there were no confirmed reports of a tornado and he was unsure why the second siren sounded, as weather conditions at that time did not warrant an emergency. He said Emergency Management may sound the alarm even if there is not a warning.

“I surveyed [South Bend] from my chopper and in my opinion the damage was not from a tornado,” Hoffman said. “It was a downburst south of South Bend and Mishawaka.”

Hoffman said there were confirmed reports of 65-mph gusts. Other gusts may have blown at higher speeds.

Most of the damage Hoffman said he saw were downed trees, though he did see one barn that was flattened and a business with its roof blown off.

Though officials at both schools said their campuses did not sustain serious damage, emergency sirens sounded at both, and administrators and students took cover in basements and inner hallways as a precaution.

When the first siren sounded people in buildings were evacuated to a safer location within the building and security officers at both campuses advised individuals not to leave buildings until the warning ended. Kevin Cole, a sophomore from Dillon, was at a sophomore business orientation meeting in the Mendoza College of Business when the sirens sounded.

“We went to the basement and everyone seemed calm and there were a lot of people down there,” Cole said. “A large group of people were standing under a large glass window at the end of the spiral staircase which didn’t seem too smart.”

University spokesman Dennis Brown said the tornado warning interrupted but did not cancel classes and suspended operations at Notre Dame for approximately 45 minutes.

Brown said a second tornado siren at approximately 3:40 p.m. interrupted operations again for about 15 minutes. Though operations at the University resumed as normal later in the afternoon, the annual beginning-of-the-year picnic was moved from DeBartolo Quad indoors to the Joyce Center.

“Many other areas of the county were hit far harder than we were,” Brown said. “We were fortunate.”

College spokeswoman Melanie McDonald said Saint Mary’s Security did not report any damages, injuries or power outages and said the warning did not cause not a major disruption on campus.