Campus Community Braces for Storm Together

New Cairo bore the brunt of the heavy rains that hit Cairo just over a week ago. The storm caused severe flooding of both streets and buildings, including AUC, leading to power outages, major traffic jams and damage to infrastructure.

Not built to withstand rainstorms given Egypt’s dry weather, many spaces experienced challenges when the storm hit. AUC New Cairo was no exception, but it’s times like these that demonstrate the solidarity of the campus community.

Some students who were on campus were left confused and uncertain, unaware of the severity of the impending rains. “We were in the library working on a graduation presentation,” said Farida El Batouty, an integrated marketing communication major who was among a group of students stuck on campus because of the storm. “No one knew that there was a storm coming. We were getting calls from parents about the storm, and all of a sudden, it was very gloomy. We weren’t able to get transportation to leave the University."

University Residences: A Home Away from Home

When the Office of Residential Life heard that students were stuck in the library, the University Residences community opened its doors to anyone who needed a place to stay for the evening. “They were very supportive,” said El Batouty. “They made sure we had a comfortable place. I hated the fact that I had to spend the night here in those conditions, but when we saw how generous and hospitable they were, I felt very safe and felt at home.”

“The experience was very hard, but the dorms people were very warm and they welcomed us big time,” said Joy Malek, another integrated marketing communication major who had been working with El Batouty in the library went the storm made its way to campus. “The students and dorms managers were very helpful, offering us beds and blankets to sleep.”

The residential life team even stocked up on snacks from Seoudi to make sure people felt at home, especially those who hadn’t been able to grab any food before the storm. “We tried to accommodate people coming in, tried to make it a relaxing atmosphere,” said Walid Derham, activities officer in the Office of Residential life. "We put some cozy music and candles so people wouldn’t panic.”

Derham noted that even though the effects of the storm were challenging to deal with, he was happy to see students helping one another. The residential life team turned a frightening situation into an opportunity for mingling and collaboration, keeping the community calm. “I was shocked that many people didn’t know about the dorms and our events,” he reflected. “It was a weird introduction to life in the dorms. I owe it all to the RAs [resident advisers] who were on top of things.”

Although staff and students were busy taking people in, they still had some damage to deal with in the residences as well. The common area was completely flooded; several rooms experienced leaks and flooding; and the electricity was shut off to prevent any accidents. Keeping everything under control required a team effort. Staff and Resident Advisers (RAs) distributed tasks amongst themselves, monitoring the damage, mopping up water and making sure that all residents were safe. “We took a tour around all the rooms,” said Yasmeen Negoum. “Each RA was responsible for a unit and took a master key to check if residents were ok.”

When they saw the flooding, students in the dorms started to lend a hand, welcoming non-dorm students and helping clean up water both in the residences and on campus. “It was honestly a very good feeling,” said Negoum. “Even though you’re away from your family, you have a family here. I met people I hadn’t talked to before, and they were very helpful."

Some students, however, noted that although the situation was handled well and students bonded in the residences, this storm points to a need to improve the structure of AUC's buildings and the policies in place to handle emergencies such as this one. “I’m so grateful and proud to be a part of this community,” said Najm Aliryani, a double major in business administration and finance. “The only thing that I wish is if the dorms were more prepared for such circumstances.”

Transportation Troubles

El Batouty and Malek weren’t the only students who didn’t make it home that evening because of the storm. While most of AUC’s evening buses were rerouted to avoid traffic jams and flooding, one bus was stuck on the Ring Road until 5:45 am. “At the 9:15 pm departure, we have six operational routes,” explained Sherif Maged, senior director of faculty housing and transportation services. “One of them only uses the Ring Road. The driver and riders reported that the road was blocked and the bus was trapped. The driver had no option of taking an alternative route since it was already on the Ring Road.”

A number of the riders were disappointed at the way the situation was handled by the University, feeling that information about the storm and road delays wasn’t communicated to them during the trip. The bus had to make several long stops, pausing twice for two hours and once for five hours, because of the traffic and water in the street. Riders reported that the bus driver wasn’t letting them off the bus when students asked to leave and meet parents in nearby locations along the route, saying that AUC's policy didn’t allow this.

“It would’ve been calmer if they had handled it better at that time, and there should’ve been follow-up after the incident,” said Teba Fatli, a graduate student who got stuck on the 9:15 pm bus. “There was no communication between AUC and the students. We had no idea what was going on. Parents were calling students to see where they were and if everything was ok.”

AUC’s transportation team noted that the information available at the bus departure time (9:15 pm) was not enough to assess and decide on a route redirection, especially that this route is already assessed as the safest and shortest to Maadi from New Cairo. “At that time, the available information did not indicate that an alternative route will be better, and we were afraid to cause unneeded delays while we still had no definite information, especially that the Ring Road is the best route already throughout the year,” Maged, senior communication specialist in the Office of Transportation Services. “When we got the information, we redirected the 10:30 pm routes, but the 9:15 pm bus was already on the Ring Road at that time.”

Concerned and anxious about the length of the trip and weather conditions, Fatli contacted Dean of Students George Marquis, who she says handled the situation very well, connecting her and the other students to numbers she could reach for help and information from AUC.

The main concern of the AUC transportation team was dropping off riders in the middle of nowhere while the storm was on, explained Maged. “We actually let four students be dropped off when one of these students had his brother waiting for him with his car, and we made sure that the four students were safe inside the car,” Maged said. “Accordingly, we were flexible with the policy while sticking to the safety and well-being of the students.”

The bus supervisor was also in contact with the bus driver throughout the trip, monitoring its location and traffic conditions. “In that chaotic situation, keeping everyone safe and driving them home was our only objective,” affirmed Maged. “Our deep appreciation goes to the riders who stayed calm throughout this nine-hour trip and to the driver and bus supervisor who remained in control throughout this situation until the end.”

Quick Response

According to AUC’s on-campus weather station, Cairo received 42 mm of rain, 37 mm of which came down in the first hour. “This is considered a big number if we compare it to the 5 mm we received in 2017 and the 6 mm we received in 2016 for the whole year,” explained Mohamed Abdelaziz, director of operations in the Office of Facilities and Operations, putting the challenges of dealing with the storm’s damage into perspective.

Due to the unexpected amount of rain, roof drainage points couldn’t absorb the water leading to leaks that affected elevators, roofs and classrooms, Abdelaziz noted. However, campus was ready to operate normally by Saturday morning. “During the rain, the facilities and operations team was spread to secure the affected locations, including isolating electricity, working on removing accumulated water and overcoming all risks,” he continued. “For the following days, the team worked around the clock to fix all damage. We had the administration’s support, which helped in providing all essential spare parts and materials to complete essential fixes. The cleaning crew also did a great job of cleaning the buildings, especially offices.”