Poland Hall looked like a refugee camp yesterday.
Its residents were milling around, trying to figure out where to go and what to do. Most of them only had the few belongings they managed to get before leaving when the fire alarms went off.
One shirtless man laid across the hood of a pickup truck yesterday morning, as others played with President Gary Ransdell’s dog.
Later, students huddled and talked. Some sat on the mound behind the Preston Center staring at their closed home.
Residents of the dorm were left temporarily homeless for several hours after being evacuated in the wake of the fire early this morning that left Pellville freshman Katie Autry severely burned.
Students were escorted to their rooms for a few minutes to pick up a handful of belongings. Housing and Residence Life provided the displaced residents with a free meal at Topper Cafe.
Bob Skipper, director of University Relations, said room 226 in the Downing University Center was open for residents and their parents until the dorms reopened.
Still some students were left scrambling.
Heather Meece, a junior from Rockport, Ind., took refuge with friends. After being awakened at 4 a.m., she stayed at a friend’s room in Minton Hall.
Elizabethtown senior Blain Fentres said he stayed in his car. He later drove it to get breakfast.
Fentres, who works for Revolution 91.7, planned on spending the day getting information about the incident to report on the air.
“I’ve lived in Poland for three years in the same room,” he said. “This is probably the craziest thing that has happened.”
Some students, including Mark Zielke, a freshman from St. Joseph, Mich., were the center of attention as media outlets from Bowling Green, Nashville and Louisville arrived to report the crisis. He spent time interviewing with reporters from Fox News and The Courier-Journal.
The displacement also has put a hamper on some students’ studying plans.
Zielke had plans to attend a study group in the dorm tonight. He said he will also have a hard time studying for his finals since he was not able to read notes saved on his computer in his room.
He said he planned on spending the day in the library to try to get some studying done.
“I’m sure professors would understand,” he said. “It’s hard to concentrate when something like this happens.”
Hopkinsville sophomore Alecia James said she has a final at 8 this morning.
“I’m not going to be able to focus,” she said.
The dorms did not reopen until the investigation of yesterday’s fire was finished. Under state law, dorms can not be reopened until a working sprinkler system is in place. In Poland, a sprinkler head that had gone off was not repaired until the investigation was complete.
Skipper said the fire caused extensive water damage to room 214, where the fire started, the director’s apartment and common areas on the first floor. There was also water damage throughout the first and second floors.
The dorm reopened at 8:20 last night to all Poland residents except those on the second floor.
“We have talked about other options, but we didn’t need to go to them,” Skipper said.
The university had considered housing Poland residents in other dorm rooms or booking hotel rooms if the dorm had not reopened.
Reach Mai Hoang at [email protected]