Sorting through the Rubble
Westmont College professors and students began sifting through the ashes yesterday as some coped with the loss of their homes and departments.
Classes were canceled until December 1 to give the campus time to recover from the November 13 fire that destroyed 20 percent of its buildings but injured no one. The fire destroyed three academic buildings, more than 30 dorm rooms, and 14 of the 41 college-owned faculty houses at the Christian liberal arts college in Santa Barbara, California.
Two married professors who were teaching a study-abroad program in Europe found out that their home had been destroyed by watching a CNN news feed. One psychology professor was only able to save the rats he was using for neuropsychology research after losing both his home and his department.
"This is clearly the most devastating natural disaster we've had on campus," college spokesman Scott Craig said. "Right now they're just finding pieces of pottery before giving up altogether and trying to move on."
Freshman Stacey Torigoe was on her way to saxophone quartet rehearsal when she and 800 other students were ushered into the gym to spend the night.
"We could see the flames in the trees and there were sparks all over the place," Torigoe said. "I was just in shock most of the night."
Because her dorm was damaged, Torigoe was only able to save her saxophone and her cell phone, but she decided, "Life goes on, even without stuff."
Although several professors lost academic work, the fire did not create a complete loss. Three buildings that were destroyed by the fire were slated to be demolished later as part of the college's earlier plan to build new buildings.
The college has not built a structure on its campus since 1970, but it broke ground last month on two new academic buildings. Its long-term plan is to build a new science building, art center, residence hall, and chapel. The college will still move forward with construction, but is waiting to see if the neighboring community will have enough sympathy to stop disputing their plans.
"We have had hundreds of meetings with our neighbors. They have challenged us every step of the way," Craig said. "I don't imagine a disaster like this will change their minds."
However, there has been an outpouring of support from the community since immediately after the fire, with 400 rooms offered within a 24-hour period. The college's soccer team celebrated a 2-0 victory over Azusa Pacific University (APU) last night. APU could have won by forfeit on Saturday but postponed the game because of the fire.
Natural disasters have recently struck other Council for Christian Colleges and Universities member schools. Earlier this year, a tornado ripped through Union University, creating $40 million worth of damage, and Belhaven College lost $2.1 million after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
"It took us a long time to get past Hurricane Katrina," said Roger Parrott, president of Belhaven. "It hasn't easy been for Union and it won't be for Westmont. I think we grew stronger as an institution, but we didn't like it." Just before the hurricane hit, Belhaven had announced plans to build a science building, which still hasn't happened.
"It's going to get weary after the initial adrenaline," Parrott said. "Once the headlines go away, they still have to pick up the pieces."
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