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Torrential rain keeps custodial workers hopping—and mopping

October 1, 2002

What began Thursday morning as a drought-quenching rain by late afternoon turned into a deluge that threatened floors, furniture and computer equipment in at least seven campus buildings.

Custodial workers arriving for the 3-11 shift were soon scurrying for buckets and mops as water began dripping from ceilings and pouring under doorways. In addition to the music and mass communication building, the Sundquist Science Complex, the library, Marks, Kimbrough and several residential halls demanded attention.

Reports of incoming water set Campus Police phones ringing around 3:15 p.m. Security personnel passed word of the problems along to lead custodian Henry Campbell. Campbell served as a mobile water fighter, while individual building custodians kept watch over their assigned turf.

Campbell's first stop was the bookstore.

“Water was coming in under the doorway at the entrance and around walls,” he says. He set to work placing buckets and moving books out of harm's way.

He'd barely mopped up the last of the water at the bookstore when the call came to head to the Kimbrough building, where water was dripping from ceilings and blowing in around windows.

The wind was a big contributor to the problems, Campbell says. “It's not just how hard it's raining but how hard the wind is blowing.” High winds can drive water against buildings and turn normally effective barriers like windows into glass channel that carry water around casements and into buildings.

Campbell also spent time fighting water infiltration in residence halls, including Killebrew, Sevier and Blount.

Battles against water are typically fought with a limited number of weapons: mops, towels and buckets—lots of buckets. The one technological tool custodians have? The wet vac. But even a 10-gallon model has limits. “Water was coming under the door in the Marks building like a spigot,” Campbell says. “Faster than we could vacuum it up.”

Campbell, lead custodial worker Don Stone, and 16 second-shift custodians in the various buildings manned their mops throughout the evening, their radios squawking at their hips, as reports of new problems rolled in. The last call came in around 10:10 p.m., according to Campbell.

Friday's day crew arrived to more cleanup duties. Maintenance staff went to work assessing damage and estimating repair costs.

Campbell, who's seen his share of weather-imposed crises in his seven years at Austin Peay says the key is to stay calm and focused. “It was bad,” he says. “But we were able to take care of it.”