Sept. 04--ELON -- Students living in an Elon University residence hall struck by lightning late Wednesday are having to stay elsewhere until repairs are made in the building.
The university reported that 85 students living in Janie Poole Brown Hall, one of the on-campus apartment buildings in The Oaks complex, had to evacuate, though no one was injured. Students were asked to stay with friends and were told hotel arrangements could be made, though no one requested any, said Dan Anderson, vice president of University Communications.
"My suite mates said they heard a big explosion, and then the lights went off," said Dean Walters, a sophomore whose apartment was among three units that was damaged by water after a sprinkler on the top floor went off. Anderson and others said those in the vicinity of the building heard a "boom" when lightning struck.
Crews inspecting the residence hall have not yet determined where exactly lightning struck the building, which happened around 10 p.m. Wednesday. The lightning strike apparently caused flames to shoot out of a bathroom air duct on a top floor room, which triggered a nearby sprinkler head and caused damage to that apartment and the two below it on first and second floors.
Anderson said a student was in the bathroom of room 302 at the time of the lightning strike and saw a flame shoot out of an air vent in the ceiling. Firefighters later broke through the bathroom ceiling to be certain there wasn't still a fire smoldering.
The lightning sent a power surge through the fire alarm system, which prevented the pull boxes and audible alarms from working. Anderson said the university's alarm system is constantly monitored, and a central dispatch center immediately received 164 error messages alerting a problem. The fire alarm system had been manually tested Aug. 27 during a fire drill and worked without a problem, he said.
"Up until the lightning strike, they were clearly functioning," Anderson said.
Walters said when he walked in to briefly gather his things between 11:45 p.m. and midnight, tarps had been placed throughout his living room to cover some of their belongings.
"Water was dripping from the ceiling," Walters said of the flooding from the third floor that leaked into his apartment.
He said he and his roommates had speakers, two televisions and game systems in the living room, and he was unsure whether the items had been damaged. After being evacuated Wednesday, students were given 15 minutes to get items they would need for the night.
Anderson said 12 students lived in the three four-room apartment units that sustained water damage. Those rooms are being dried out and the university plans to make repairs, including replacing carpet. Alternate housing will be provided for those students until repairs are complete, the university reported, and other students will be able to move back into their rooms "once fire safety can be ensured."
On Thursday, residents were allowed back into the building from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to pick up more of their possessions.
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