William Moller came from his home in Denmark to Norfolk for a week to experience life as a Northeast Community College student and see some sights elsewhere in the U.S.
What he didn’t expect was that his stay would involve an emergency weather evacuation at a nearby church.
Moller is one of about 30 students visiting from Denmark visiting Norfolk for the week.
Plans to stay in the college dorms and attend classes fell apart when the City of Norfolk declared an emergency evacuation for part of the town from Thursday to Friday morning because of massive flooding.
Northeast was in the evacuation zone, meaning classes for the rest of the week were canceled and 545 students living in the Burkhardt, Path and Simon residence halls had to find somewhere else to stay overnight.
The college’s normal evacuation area, the Chuck M. Pohlman Agriculture Complex, was set up for another event. Administrators were left scrambling for a plan B, which came in the form of First Christian Church at the southeast corner of Benjamin Avenue and Victory Road.
Youth group leader Marshal Hardy said Northeast President Michael Chipps approached lead minister Tim DeFor about using the space. “Tim said come on over because (students) really had nowhere else to go,” Hardy said. “We’ve got a big facility.”
So Thursday night, as the Northeast campus stood eerily empty, First Christian buzzed with the activity of about 180 students watching movies on a big screen in the worship room, playing games and trying to pass the time.
The community really stepped up, Hardy said. A free food bar included about 20 boxes of donated pizza, tacos and other snacks, and the church received an influx of about 70 air mattress donations to add to their stockpile of at least 50 blankets and pillows.
Being in a severe weather evacuation was a new experience for Northeast and Aarhus students alike. Moller said it’s kept him from having the full college experience, but it can’t be helped.
“It’s kind of sad. But it’s also like, what are you gonna do about it?” he said. “The people are really nice and they want to hangout and play ball. It’s a good time.”
First-year Northeast student Ashlee Novotny said that when she heard about the evacuation, she was nervous and didn’t know what to pack since it was the first time she’s experienced something like this. But she made sure to grab a pack of playing cards for rounds of Nertz and Spoons.
“If you’re gonna spend the day here, you gotta do something,” she said, sitting at a table with two other students. One of them, junior Daniel Kurtz, had a service dog lying at his feet.
“As a student with a guide dog, I have to clearly worry about him and pack enough food,” Kurtz said. “That’s what (thought) I went to — what do I need for him?”
Accommodating all students’ needs were the main concerns for the ad hoc evacuation shelter leadership team — a group of 15 Northeast administrators, resident assistants and First Christian leaders who watched over the proceedings and organized donations.
At around 9 p.m. Thursday, the team convened inside a room, walls plastered with contact information, lists of concerns and timelines. After receiving a city update from City of Norfolk Mayor Josh Moenning, they discussed plans and protocols.
“Make tonight a ‘non-event,’ ” said Eric Johnson, Northeast associate vice president of the Center for Enterprise.
As of Friday morning, when the evacuation orders were lifted, everything went according to plan, said Northeast spokesman James Curry. The students and custodial staff worked to tidy the church and people were free to return to campus. Classes will resume on Monday.
Recent storm sewer and detention pond additions on campus prevented water damage issues and reduced the amount of water on campus, Curry said.