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Food insecurity, downed power lines: off-campus students voice ice storm experiences

Updated: Oct 22, 2021

Piper Lehr

Staff writer

Photo taken by Piper Lehr from the inside of Safeway on Sunday, Feb. 14, two days after the ice storm originally hit. Power was out, freezers were dead, and aisles were blocked off with caution tape. Non-perishables were obtainable, but only through employee requests.

This past week, Oregon was put into a state of emergency due to an ice storm that resulted in fallen tree branches and power outages. While Willamette University's West and East-side dorm complexes briefly lost power, Kaneko Commons, which is located further East past Sparks Field, was largely unaffected. But the on-campus bubble of unaffected students tells only half of the story. Two off-campus students, Ryleigh “Leigh” Norgrove, a senior English major and Collegian contributor, and Angel Espinoza Robles, a junior biochemistry major, detailed their experiences with the ice storm.

For Leigh Norgrove, the initial experience was relatively intense because they saw it happen in real-time. “There was a really big ice storm that hit on Friday night while my friends and I were doing karaoke. It was scary to see the transformers blow and sparks fall from the sky. One of our neighbors’s houses caught on fire from the power lines, so that was very scary but luckily we were all right. It was really crazy and the power immediately went out.” They went on to explain how basic tasks immediately became difficult, due to a lack of preparation. “I’m the kind of person who thought I had too many candles, but I soon realized we don’t. It was very challenging to see in the dark, and our house has an electric heating system, so we weren’t able to have heat, or cook, or take a shower. Normal, day to day things were extra challenging.” Angel Espinoza Robles’s experience was safer, but still frustrating. “The power went off for about two and a half days,” he said.

Neither Espinoza nor Norgrove have experienced any property damage, though Norgrove expressed a sadness about the fallen trees around Salem. “It was really sad to see all of the old trees on campus and at the state capitol be very damaged because those are very much a part of Salem’s history, and our community’s history as well. So to see them breaking was very sad for me. But you know, we were all fine. We were able to move our cars as [soon as] we heard things starting to snap.”

Because of the power outage, many Oregon residents have been dealing with food insecurities. When asked if he had any issues obtaining food after the power went out, Espinoza said, “A little. There were some foods I could save. But we were actually running low on groceries, so when the fridge went bad it wasn’t a lot.” He continued to explain that although the loss wasn’t big, he was still having issues because it was difficult to replace those foods, or buy new ones. “It was like, a) there are restaurants but they’re closed, and b) there’s Uber, but that risks getting someone else infected and/or hurt because of the [fallen] power lines and tree branches.” Additionally, some grocery stores were having accessibility issues, such as the Safeway closest to campus.

Thankfully, Norgrove did not experience any issues regarding food insecurity due to the nature of their job. “Luckily I work for a coffee shop downtown that was able to give us free food and coffee, a warm space to be in, and an ability to charge our devices. We did not have internet there, but just about everything else.” They elaborated, “I was like, well, it kind of sucks to be at work today with everything going on, but I’m also in a heated, warm space with food and drinks and water, so it ended up being the right place for me to be.”

When asked if he’s had any issues preparing for courses due to the power outage, Espinoza said yes. “The only class I could really make progress in was my English class because we were reading from a novel. Everything else is accessed through an iPad, which I use to take notes, or a laptop. But everytime I used [them], I risked the battery going down,” he said. Espinoza continued to express frustration with the University’s initial decision to hold classes despite everything. He said, “I was disappointed in our administration because with the [initial] email it was like, ‘we understand that you don’t have power or food, but we’re still having classes.’ It was like no, these are basic necessities that [when absent] make it hard to do everything else. I saw it coming, so I guess you could say it was more of a ‘disappointed but not surprised’ moment, but it was still frustrating.” His sentiments echo those made in the [response email that student body president Claire Mathews-Lingen sent out] shortly after the decision was announced.

Norgrove was fortunately able to get their coursework done by accessing campus resources. They explained, “luckily the school has its own generator so we were able to go to campus and charge our devices and stay warm, and actually get ahead on some homework.”

While Espinoza was disappointed with the University's administration, both students expressed gratitude towards their professors’ understanding during this difficult time. Norgrove said, “most of my professors have been very lenient, and kind, and understanding about everything that's been happening with the state of students’ living through this.” Espinoza similarly stated, “I had professors that basically shifted their entire syllabuses back a week, which was an interesting development. This semester I feel like I’ve had a really great group of professors that have shown their support, especially since some of them don’t have power as well.”

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