When Hurricane Irene swept past the tree-lined campus of Elizabeth City State University, it left dozens of downed trees and dangerous dangling limbs.
The debris would have taken the six-person campus grounds crew months to clean up.
Fortunately, an NC State crew was able to lend a hand—actually 17 pairs of skilled hands—along with heavy duty equipment such as dump trucks, wood chippers, a backhoe, a Bobcat and a bucket truck for reaching the tops of trees.
The convoy rolled into Elizabeth City last Thursday, just in time to clear the way for two major campus events: a first-ever home football matchup against Winston-Salem State University and a reception at the chancellor’s residence, both on Saturday.
The first night, NC State crews removed large trees near the K.E. White Graduate and Continuing Education Center, leaving the hometown team to tackle the debris at Roebuck Stadium.
Facilities maintenance coordinator Steve Ratzlaff, a certified arborist who had been watching the Weather Channel, was eager to get to work. “I know what 80-mile-per-hour wind does to trees.”
He was so intent on his work, in fact, that he was unaware he was drawing a crowd while taking down a large tree.
“Once it was on the ground, I looked up and saw eight people watching me. Wow, I’ve got an audience,” he said. “It was comical.”
On Friday, the team worked from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. The volunteer crew, which included many veteran employees, worked together smoothly without injuries or equipment damage.
All together, the NC State crew cleaned and cleared about four acres of land, including the main entrance, a central wooded area that’s the equivalent of Brickyard, the area around Viking Village residence halls and the one-acre chancellor’s residence site.
“We run disaster drills in all seasons, including hurricane recovery drills, so this is great experience for our crew,” said Nessa Stone, operations manager for waste reduction and recycling.
Just as the Wolfpack volunteers were wrapping things up on Saturday, Dr. Willie J. Gilchrist, the chancellor, stopped by to say thank you and pose with the crew for a photo on his lawn.
It wasn’t the first time ECSU, near the Outer Banks, has faced storm damage, or the first time NC State has pitched in to help a sister university 176 miles away.
Back in 2003, NC State grounds manager Robert Bradley joined a 75-person crew from Appalachian State, the University of North Carolina and East Carolina, when the damage at ECSU was even more extensive.
“It was much worse in 2003, and it could have been a lot worse this time,” Bradley said. “This went about as smoothly as it could go.”