Morton residents adjust after fire destroys belongings

by Anthony Robles and Debora Hyemin Han | 10/6/16 12:30am


Morton Hall is currently uninhabitable as a result of extensive smoke and water damage caused by the Oct. 1 fire, leaving 67 students displaced.

by Hollye Swinehart / The Dartmouth

Early Saturday morning, Abigail Buckley ’19 and Monika Gabriele ’19, two members of a quad on the third floor of Morton Hall, received a call from one of their roommates informing them that their building was on fire. The pair stayed up together until 3 a.m., waiting not only for firefighters to put out the blaze but also any update from the College.

“We didn’t receive any Morton-specific information; it was all just sent out to campus like ‘there is a fire,’ not what’s going to happen to us,” Buckley said.

Buckley and Gabriele are two of 67 students forced to relocate for the remainder of the fall term after Morton was rendered uninhabitable by a four-alarm fire caused by an unattended charcoal grill.

Although the College requested that students contact them if they could not find a place to stay for the night, the roommates said, it did not have any specific areas set aside. Buckley and Gabriele reached out to their friends for a place to sleep once news of the fire broke. Gabriele eventually spent the night “literally under the bed” of one of her friends before having to shower a couple of hours later in the Alumni Gym. The two did not hear anything about the state of their room until 11 a.m., when they were called to meet at House Center A, at noon. There, affected students were given toiletries as well as supply packs from the Red Cross.

Students still ran into logistical problems, with some lacking access to their medications. Buckley had left her emergency inhaler in her room and was unable to get it back. Nor could she get a replacement from either Dick’s House, due to their policies on prescription medicines, or the Red Cross, because it was closed on Sunday.

Even something as simple as taking a shower was an issue for Gabriele, who was not made aware of the codes for the bathrooms in the River Cluster, where she was relocated with Buckley. She found herself locked out of the bathroom without access to her phone, and eventually broke down.

“I was cold, standing in a towel, after the long weekend I just started sobbing,” she said.

Other students have also had difficult transitions into their new living quarters, particularly with getting necessary furniture in a timely manner. Taringana Guranungo ’18, Morton first and second floor’s undergraduate advisor, converted the McCulloch study room into a living space for himself and fellow UGA Issa Sylla ’17 so they can continue to fulfill their duties as East Wheelock UGAs. They moved into this space on Saturday, but only received their furniture this Tuesday.

“They’ve tried to accommodate for everyone but maybe they failed to do so in a timely manner,” Guranungo said.

Fellow resident Jonah Cohen ’19, who lived on the fourth floor, said that he also experienced distress over the weekend because he had no way of finding out about the condition of his possessions until the fire was over.

“I didn’t know if when I got let back in there if all my stuff was just going to be completely obliterated,” Cohen said.

Apart from some minor smoke damage, however, his room escaped any major harm. Cohen, who was relocated to an apartment on South Park Street, noted that the College’s ability to find places for 67 students to stay at a time when the campus was already at “virtual capacity” had impressed him.

While Cohen was most impressed with the assistance from the College, Gabriele and Buckley have both found that most help has come from Sylla, their UGA. Sylla consistently asked his residents if they needed anything and offered to take them to places like Walmart for things they need.

“He’s incredible,” Gabriele said. “I don’t know what our floor would be doing without him.”

Sylla, in turn, was grateful that his residents were both responsive and cooperative, even though they were not entirely sure how their situation would turn out.

“I’ve received a ton of support just from my residents and moving forward I just want to be in a good enough place that I can continue supporting them,” he said.

In the same way that Sylla’s residents saw him as the most helpful resource, Sylla found help in the generosity shown to him by his professors, such as from Hany Farid, his former “Introduction to Computer Science” professor, who offered him a place to stay.

“To me that was the most emotional part of this whole thing just because of how it was such a generous gesture,” Sylla said. “I almost broke down and cried. That in itself, not everything else, not the building burning, not losing my stuff, it was just that act of generosity was really, really huge for me.”

Sylla, however, did not escape the fire unscathed. Though he can easily replace some of his lost items, one of the biggest losses he incurred was the damage to his United States citizenship certificate, which he said will cost him $400 to replace.

Fellow resident Regina Yan ’19, who lived on the fourth floor of Morton, recounted that her room had suffered extensive water and smoke damage. While Yan was able to salvage most of her belongings, the effects of the fire were clear— she was forced to contend with losing an entire weekend during which she could have been doing homework, and was forced to cancel a majority of her plans.

Considering that the fire’s breakout lined up with the weekend leading up to midterms, students noted difficulties juggling academics and other responsibilities, adding to the difficulties of fall term.

“It’s no longer a typical college life,” Sylla said. His hope for the residents of Morton is that they can “at least transition back into what a regular term should look like.”

The community’s response, however, has allowed students like Yan to move forward, as she said that in the days following the fire numerous people contacted her through blitz and Facebook asking her if she needed any sort of assistance. Yan also said that her professors had been very understanding in regards to the situation, thus allowing her ample time to adjust to the sudden change.

“I really appreciate everything that everyone has done,” Yan said. “It’s a situation that’s not ideal, but everyone has made it so much better than it could have been.”