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Rutgers Inn Becomes Refuge From the Storm

Image of Rutgers Inn lobby

As Hurricane Sandy bore down on New Brunswick, and exploding transformers turned the blackened sky blue and green, some two dozen guests spent a night to remember in the darkened lobby of the Rutgers University Inn & Conference Center.

It was an experience that Jeff Maschi says he will never forget.

On October 29, the historic inn on the Cook-Douglass Campus became a veritable island in the storm for Maschi and more than two dozen other guests and staff – mainly essential services personnel working in such areas as Dining Services, University Facilities and Human Resources.  They were joined by a handful of other guests who took refuge at the inn, including several visiting scholars from Eastern Europe.

“I knew that Monday would be an odd day, so I wanted a place to ride out the storm,” said Maschi, associate director of labor relations for University Human Resources.

Since he often is involved in critical decisions affecting employees, Maschi wanted to remain close to his office, so he reserved a room that morning. A Milltown resident, he was concerned that flooding would hamper his ability to get to campus, as it did during Hurricane Irene last year

After being the last person to leave the Administrative Services II Building on Route 1 on Monday night, Maschi checked into the inn, just as the storm was growing more fierce. Not long afterward, everything went black.  The inn’s main generator was powered up, but only provided light for the common areas, not the guest rooms.

“So, we all gathered in the lobby. There was minimal lighting; it was almost a festive way to ride this storm out. The atmosphere was very convivial; we were almost joking around about it,” Maschi related. “There was a weird sense of excitement as we all embraced our pioneer spirit for the night – a real communal experience.”

Deana Pagnozzi, director of the inn, distributed flashlights and snacks and tried to make everyone as comfortable as possible.

“Deana was a real trooper,” said Maschi. “She was giving us whatever was available.”

Pagnozzi said the guests were very appreciative that the inn had remained open, despite the loss of power.

 “They were very understanding of the situation we were in, but preferred to stay at the inn when given the option of evacuating to a shelter,” she said. “Here, at least they had showers and a bed. “

An extra generator provided by the university enabled them to make coffee, power a radio and charge cell phones so their guests, particularly the international visitors, could send messages to their families abroad to let them know they were all right.

But like something out of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller, it soon became apparent to the guests that they were experiencing something far more ominous than a power outage. Maschi said it almost had “a horror movie feel.”

“We were sitting in the lobby watching the sky through the large windows. We heard the trees falling outside and we kept seeing green and blue lights in the sky,” he said.  “ We later realized that these were from transformers that were exploding all over the state.”

Maschi checked out the next day, when the storm died down.

By Wednesday, still lacking power, the inn was ordered to evacuate.

 “The university was concerned for the safety of everyone on campus. Without power or food, and a serious loss of water pressure, we had no choice but to close,” Pagnozzi said.

The inn reopened on Friday, November 2, and two visitors hosted by Rutgers departments checked back in for several more days. Fortunately, the inn suffered no damage and none of its massive old trees were toppled by the wind.

“The storm and its aftermath really showed why it’s vital for Rutgers to have an inn or hotel on our campus that is owned an operated by the university,” Pagnozzi said. “To us, Rutgers employees are like family, and our international visitors are part of our extended family. We made sure they felt safe and secure.”

Maschi says the choice to spend the night at the university inn was a good one.

“Frankly, I’ve always been fascinated by the inn, so when they lost power there, it became this awesome community experience,” he related. “It could have been awful, but it turned out to be something quite beautiful.”             

                                                                                                                                    --Sandra Lanman

PHOTO CAPTION: The lobby of the Rutgers University Inn and Conference Center on the New Brunswick Campus became a refuge during Hurricane Sandy for more than two dozen university employees and international guests.  (Photo Credit: Andrea Kane)

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