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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, November 5, 2004

UH students return to damaged campus

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

Students returning to the flood-damaged University of Hawai'i-Manoa campus yesterday morning worried about research projects and the loss of the library as the fall semester heads into the final stretch.

Professor Samir El-Swaify walks near the G. Donald Sherman Lab, where research papers were scattered in the mud.

Photos by Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

As workers clean up a flooded area, student Domingos Maria, from East Timor, worries about not finishing a paper because the library has been shut down. His dorm went without electricity till Wednesday night.

Professor Jinzeng Yang temporarily holds class in Kuykendall Hall after the flooding knocked out electricity to his regular classroom.
"One student was so distressed because she had a test this morning and her books were up in her cubicle (in the closed Hamilton Library)," said librarian Valerie Perrett, who was stationed outside. The library is closed indefinitely because of extensive water damage when Manoa Stream sent muddy floodwaters through the campus Saturday night, causing millions of dollars in damage.

An overall campus damage assessment could still be two weeks away, said state risk manager Julie Ugalde, noting that the state's insurance policy covers flood damage up to a cap of $25 million.

UH regents toured the destruction Wednesday and legislators were set to get a firsthand look this morning.

No one, not even librarians, is allowed in the library because of health concerns about mold.

Though giant dehumidifiers have been set up in the building that houses a fortune in books and research materials, Perrett said it's "a race against time" to keep moisture from doing additional damage. The ground floor has been sealed off from those above to prevent humidity from rising.

With school officials trying to return campus life to normal, reminders of the Saturday night flood were everywhere, from high-water lines along building walls to the stench of rotting paper, standing water and slippery mud. With a backdrop of droning generators, traces of diesel fumes and the pungent smell of debris, some were worried about breathing fumes.

"It's so stinky, it's unhealthy," said Shirling Au, holding a napkin over her nose yesterday outside the Sherman Laboratory building, one of the most severely damaged after water and mud flooded the basement, ruining the electrical and mechanical generating systems. "It's getting worse and worse. I want to throw up after I smell it," said the 24-year-old project fiscal officer.

Students worried about research projects, advanced theses and getting papers in on time.

Domingos Maria, an undergraduate from East Timor in the department of natural resources and environmental management, wasn't able to finish a paper due yesterday and worried that his grade would be affected. On top of that, his dorm housing international students had no electricity until Wednesday night.

"I was trying to write my paper but I couldn't get access to the library journals," said Maria. "I hope I can submit it next week. If not, I just give up."

Samir A. El-Swaify, chairman of the department, was reassuring. "They will be understanding," he said of his teaching staff. "They'll have a lot of tolerance."

Shana Suzuki

Nicole Scheman
As students faced the inevitability of the loss of the library, they scrambled to find other resources. Shana Suzuki, a 29-year-old graduate student in nutritional science, was grateful she had already copied most of the important journal articles she needed for her thesis, while Reina Lee, a 33-year-old senior in English, was looking on the Internet, at the State Library and Kapi'olani Community College Library, for the esoteric book she needs for a paper on the Illuminati, a secret society in 17th-century New England.

"I'm doubtful," she said of the other two libraries.

Nicole Scheman, a Ph.D. student in natural resources and environmental management, said she had been through worse at college in Guam. After a pair of typhoons roared through the island, she wrote her master's thesis by candlelight.

Librarians have set up an alternative computer server and are struggling to bring back the Voyager library access system for students. The online electronic database system, which gives access to online resources, was restored yesterday. A new arrangement with the Greater Western Library Coalition gives UH students access to resources from libraries around the country.

"Students can go to Sinclair Library and see if they have a particular book on the inter-library loan system and they can request it and have it posted," said UH spokeswoman Arlene Abiang. "They're just not sure how long it will take."

Dozens of researchers, meanwhile, continued to assess damage to their work. Renowned molecular evolutionist Rebecca Cann, who lost virtually her entire laboratory at the Biomedical Sciences building when waist-high muddy water rampaged through it, estimates her losses at $1.5 million.

She's now trying to arrange for alternative space in other buildings, and ground-floor space for big freezers.

Despite the disaster, Cann had one spot of good news.

"I'm always after the students not to put the bird blood on the wrong shelf," she said. "But we're there hosing off mud in the bottom of the minus-70 refrigerator, the one that didn't tip, and there are all these samples frozen in the bottom. There must have been 1,000 test tubes that were saved."

But for Jinzeng Yang, there was a daily struggle through Tuesday to keep dry ice on frozen mouse tissue samples that he uses in research on why animals gain weight and what genes affect fat buildup. By Tuesday, a large freezer had been delivered to the Agricultural Sciences building to save most of his research samples and by yesterday generators brought up electricity in the offices.

But he said that unless full power comes on line within two weeks, he won't be able to complete research needed for a paper almost ready for publication.

"A lot of research I have to do in my lab, which has no electricity," he said.

Staff writer Mike Gordon contributed to this report. Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8013.