A seemingly ordinary Monday night turned into a disaster for some Pomona College students, particularly residents of Mudd-Blaisdell and Gibson residence halls, when fire alarms and sprinklers going off forced them to evacuate around 10 p.m. April 4.
The basement’s sprinkler was apparently set off by a student trying to hang something in their room, students told TSL, knocking it down and inundating the basement of Mudd with several inches of water. Many students are still grappling with the aftermath more than a week later.
Paayal Ramesh PO ’24, who lives in Mudd, recalled stepping out into the hallway with roommate Aarushi Phalke PO ’24 and seeing her hall mate drenched.
“She came out and she was soaked from head to toe in gas water, like she was reeking of gas,” Ramesh said. “It was just black water all over the floor of the hallway.”
Phalke said that her hall mate’s eyes were burning from the water which concerned them both. However, she said that Director of Housing and Operations Frank Bedoya later told them there was no sign of gas.
“Then my concern is, what was the smell? What is in sprinkler water that would do that?” she said.
Ramesh and other students tried to contain the damage amid what she remembered to be complete chaos. She and others put towels under their doors to try to keep the slowly rising water out of their rooms.
“[I] walked through the puddle of water to just put everything that I possibly could on the bed,” she said. “And while I was trying to push that bag to that side of the room, I literally saw all the water seeping into the other corner. And I was just like, this is traumatizing.”
David Ruiz PO ’24 said he was further from the water burst, joking that he initially thought a first-year had set off the fire alarms from burning popcorn.
He evacuated with other students near his room, where they waited outside for a little over 10 minutes. He remembered that the group chat for the floor had several incoming messages, and then a peer texted him that there had been a gas leak, which he initially didn’t believe.
“We were walking through a little courtyard between Harwood and we smelled something chemical, like something flammable. I don’t know. But there was a smell that was not supposed to be there,” Ruiz said. “Ultimately, it was determined [by us] to be gasoline.”
According to Ramesh, it took around 45 minutes for anybody to arrive to help in the basement, at which point she was told to leave the building. Thinking it would be a short turnaround, she left her phone in her room as she and the other Muddment residents joined the students already outside.
At that point, Ruiz looked in a window to the basement and saw two to three inches of water above the carpet which continued to rise. He estimated that it eventually reached nearly six inches in depth.
“It looked like a scene out of ‘Titanic’ — not to be dramatic, but it’s true,” he said. “By the end of the night, there were greenboxes floating around the hallway, like there were just objects that were floating in the water.”
Ruiz said that when the fire department eventually opened the front door, water flooded out and flowed nearly 25 feet out of the doorway towards Pendleton Pool.
According to Ruiz, Bedoya did not arrive at the scene until almost midnight, over two hours after the initial incident.
At this point in time, students were still not allowed inside the basement due to safety concerns, evoking student frustration. Phalke said it took a long time to shut off the water.
“The rest of the people who lived in Mudd-Blaisdell and Gibson were told to go back and [Muddment residents] were left standing in the cold … with just what we had brought, and there was no clarity, we had to wait,” Ruiz said.
Eventually, Ruiz and six others were let back into their dorms since the water had not fully reached their section of the hall, stopping inches from Ruiz’s door and leaving behind a dark stain.
However, the students whose rooms were inundated were not allowed back in. According to Ruiz, Bedoya told students that there was a housing shortage due to COVID-19 cases and there was no alternative housing for students whose rooms had been flooded.
Bedoya did suggest students could sleep in the lounge of Mudd-Blaisdell, which Ruiz said caused further upset among the students.
Phalke said that Pomona could have handled the situation better.
“Housing is something that should always be guaranteed for every single night that you’re on campus. For something to impact an entire floor and for the college to simply be like, well, we don’t have housing on campus, but you have money,” she said. “We are college students. We don’t have money. Like we can’t find housing somewhere else, just out of the blue.”
“Housing is something that should always be guaranteed for every single night that you’re on campus.”
She added that she was not upset about the sprinkler being set off accidentally, but was frustrated with Pomona’s lack of support.
Most residents ended up sleeping in friends’ rooms.
“[Tuesday] morning, I checked the status of our room. They had this massive fan placed in our room and all the furniture was shifted around,” Phalke said. “But it was not livable. People were coming in and out of our rooms, it was unlocked. Our rooms were unlocked for that whole period of time. All of our stuff was moved and kind of gone through a little bit.”
Phalke added that she emailed Bedoya to receive housing accommodations because the prospect of not having a consistent place to sleep was causing stress, but he responded that her room would be livable by that afternoon.
Only the two students who lived in the room where the sprinklers went off received housing accommodations.
On Tuesday evening, Bedoya sent out an email thanking students for their patience and informing them that their rooms were done drying and they could return to their rooms that night.
“The next day [the administration was] like, ‘We are so thankful that you were so patient with the situation.’ And I was like, you guys didn’t give us any option. It wasn’t like you were making all these arrangements for us,” Ramesh said. “[Administrators] were literally like, ‘you can’t be in the basement, get out, [you] can’t come back in, can’t retrieve your stuff. Go sleep wherever you can for the night and then we’ll see about it tomorrow.’”
When Ramesh finally entered her room again, she was shocked at the destruction.
“We always knew these roofs [can] slip. The ceilings were fake and shit. But like, we didn’t expect any of them to come down. You know? Oh god, it was just like, what is happening? And it’s really sad to see your room, or the one thing that actually becomes your home, get flooded,” she said. “I don’t know, it’s just, I didn’t expect it. But at that time, I just wanted to cry.”
Phalke said that her room was still sticky and wet when she went in the next day. Large fans were also placed in the damaged rooms. One of her hall mates was contact traced and needed to isolate, but their room was too damaged to be in.
According to Ramesh and Phalke, none of the damages to student property are being reimbursed by the college. Bedoya and a Pomona spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.
Ruiz said he was thankful for other students’ help, in light of the lack of support from the college.
“People were coming from other dorms as late as 12:30 [a.m.] to hug their friends and sit with them,” he said, adding that they brought pillows and blankets to offer to those affected. “And it was a horrible thing. And people weren’t as supported as they should have been. But there was so much support from the community.”
“To have an incident like this happen and then having to figure out everything else on your own and for you to have to come together with other students,” she said. “I think it was a way in which people in our basement kind of bonded together, which I’m very grateful for.”
All of the Mudd-Blaisdell residents have now returned to their rooms.