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Storm claims tennis bubble, trees, and hours of cleanup

Two crabapple trees on Killian Court, the tennis bubble and all classes and lectures were the major casualties of the April Fool's Day blizzard as MIT shut down due to a storm for only the fourth time in 18 years.

The decision to close the Institute was made by Joan F. Rice, vice president for human resources, after she conferred with Campus Police and Physical Plant about the condition of the parking lots and Assistant Director Brian P. Sack at the Lincoln Laboratory. She also spoke with Senior Vice President William R. Dickson before instructing Campus Police Sgt. William Rogers to activate the 253-SNOW line at 5:30am on Tuesday. The second and third shift were canceled shortly after noon.

While classes were canceled and faculty and staff were given a holiday, the grounds staff went on 24-hour alert, with all 34 men on duty. All the parking lots, pathways, steps and ramps on the 153-acre campus plus surrounding streets had to be cleared. With outside contractors otherwise occupied, the entire burden fell upon the MIT crew.

"I haven't seen one like this since the Blizzard of '78," said John R. Butts, supervisor of grounds. "All the snow we had last year wasn't as bad as this." He said the biggest problems arose when plows got stuck assisting people leaving the campus and more equipment had to be deployed to free them.

Ground services supervisor Norman H. Magnuson Jr. directed the snow-clearing operation from 6:45pm Monday until 9:30am on Wednesday without a break. Mr. Butts and the rest of the crew departed at 3pm Wednesday when the regular shift ended. "We survived on coffee, tea and cigarettes for more hours than you could count," he said.

Two grounds workers, Joe Sullivan and Alden McDonald, rescued an 8-year-old girl in front of the Stratton Student Center after she dug through the snow and was trapped in the hollow center of the hedges. "I had my radio on and I could still hear her shouting," said Mr. Sullivan, who calmed the girl and convinced her to stop wriggling. Mr. Sullivan and Mr. McDonald parted the hedges while a bystander pulled her out. "I saw her mother later in the afternoon and she said she was fine," Mr. Sullivan said.

The Medical Department rose to the occasion, with clerk Scott Malcolmson manning the desk for 24 hours and others working double shifts. Seven physicians and nurse practicioners were on duty during the storm and responded to a series of routine calls. Nurse Anita Bailey was on duty from 3pm Monday through 9:30am Wednesday.

Dr. Mark Goldstein, a Sudbury resident, gassed up his 1986 Toyota Land Cruiser during the height of the storm and headed for Children's Hospital to see two patients before returning to MIT. He purchased the car specifically for its prowess during snowstorms and now uses it for that purpose only. It has 165,000 miles on the odometer. "I was thinking of getting rid of it," said Dr. Goldstein, a pediatrician. "But Old Reliable came through once again. I'll have to keep it for another year."

The tennis bubble, which was already due to be replaced next month, collapsed at around midnight Tuesday under the burden of the heavy, wet snow. "That's a regular happening in a bad storm," said Campus Police Chief Anne P. Glavin.

Physical Plant Director Victoria Sirianni wasn't sure if the bubble would be repaired or whether play would be suspended until the new one arrives. "If it can be inflated, we'll probably put it up so we can have a seamless transition," she said.

Ms. Sirianni said there were no power or heating problems and no damage to any buildings. The crabapple trees in Killian Court were leveled by the snow--"I'm afraid we've lost them," she said--and branches were down across the campus, with trees along the walkway in front of Building 56 hit most severely. "Nature pruned them for us," said Ms. Sirianni.

No exceptional storm-related calls were received by police. "It was mostly routine kind of stuff," Chief Glavin said.

The last time MIT declared an emergency was Jan. 8, 1996, in the midst of New England's snowiest winter. Classes were not affected since it occurred during IAP.

Before that, the Institute shut down for Hurricane Gloria in 1985 and for several days during the Blizzard of '78. This is believed to be only the second time in the 40-year history of MIT Tech Talk (printed and distributed a day late this week) that weather disrupted publication. An issue was canceled during the 1978 storm.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 3, 1997.

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