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Severe weather causes minimal damage to campus

USF student Cameron Soares just wanted to make pancakes with his roommate.

Yet, after stepping out in what appeared less-than-agreeable weather, Soares, a freshman majoring in mass communications, became one of several students caught in the severe storm that included at least nine tornadoes Thursday in the Tampa Bay area.

At 10:45 a.m., when Soares and his roommate got hungry, the weather wasn’t dangerous enough to alter their plans. With Bay News 9 on TV in their apartment, they determined it was safe to make a run to CVS for eggs while the storm let up a little, he said.

Yet, when he and his roommate arrived at the store, the weather had changed.

“(The storm) started picking up a lot more, and it was pouring everywhere around us,” Soares said.

Soares then received a text message sent through USF’s MoBull alert system at about 11:35 a.m., warning him that the weather was “serious,” he said.

The alert read, “Alert USF Tampa: Tornado warning in effect for Hillsb Cnty, Be prepared to seek shelter. See for details.”

University spokeswoman Lara Wade said MoBull alerts are sent by the USF Emergency Management team, which is comprised of administrators, the Division of Public Safety and University Police (UP). She said the alerts were made mandatory in fall 2008 after the Virginia Tech shooting spree made University officials realize they had the technology to keep students better informed in emergency situations.

While only the texting system and the website were linked, Wade said the University activated all of its warning systems in a prompt manner.

Within minutes of the alert being sent, the on-campus sirens and emergency lights, installed by Emergency Management in 2009, were also activated, and the MoBull alert message was posted on the USF website homepage.

Victoria Woodard, a junior majoring in English education, said she heard the sirens from her car in the parking lot of her off-campus apartment on 50th Street.

When she stepped out of her car, the intensity of the rain and wind speed, which was measured up to 90 mph in parts of the Bay area, was more than the Tampa native was used to.

“I was soaked to the bone,” she said.

Though none of Woodard’s classes were canceled, she said she was grateful for the University’s policy issued Thursday that would not count absences due to the weather.

While damage in the Bay area left about 7,000 customers powerless until Saturday, according to the St. Petersburg Times, USF reported minimal damage.

UP spokesman Lt. Chris Daniel said in an email to The Oracle that the Tampa campus was left mostly unharmed by the weather.

“There was no structural or other damage resulting from the storms on campus,” he said. “Part of a tree was broken in the ‘meadows,’ a remote and wooded area on the northeast corner of the campus. There were also some wet lobby floors in a few buildings, due to wind-driven rain blowing under doors. Those areas were mopped or vacuumed to dry them out, with no sustained damage.”

Limited damage was reported by Physical Plant, Wade said.

The Physical Plant report stated the Engineering Teaching Auditorium was flooded and classes were relocated Thursday. In addition, the Children’s Medical Services building temporarily lost power “due to TECO’s sub-station failure.”

Minor flooding was also reported in the Education building, WUSF-FM 89.7 Radio Station, Florida Mental Health Institute, Continuing Education building, Business Administration building, Cooper Hall, the School of Physical Therapy, the Shimberg Health Sciences Library, the Library and the Chemistry building.