(06/20/2009)

By Drew Moody

Witnesses describing the Friday morning lightning strike gave accounts resembling a mild earthquake.

The hands of the clock atop the administration building are frozen at about 10:15 a.m. The impact was felt throughout the entire historic structure.

Security and fire alarms automatically activated resulting in an hour-long evacuation. Phone services campus-wide were shut down throughout the day.

A mid-afternoon e-mail indicated Verizon expected phone services to be restored late Friday.

Tremors rippling invisibly across campus impacted structures at distances of 100 yards or more. Air conditioning units in the gym shut down and are believed to have sustained damage from either a separate "strike" or a cascading system overload.

At least one employee witnessed the event, according to Tom Ratliff, director of maintenance and building services.

"He saw a huge ball of fire rolling down the front of the administration building," Ratliff said.

Ratliff believes the lightning followed two thick copper ground wires on either side of the clock tower creating the illusion of fire.

No fires were reported although the clock motor was "toasted."

Maintenance crews and technicians working in an adjoining building were at the scene almost immediately. "Fire watch" services - roving patrols - were activated until a fire and security equipment technician arrived from Ohio. He gave the all-clear to that equipment late Friday afternoon.

College offices remained open Friday.

Ratliff continued to oversee ongoing trouble-shooting early Friday evening. He believes the full extent of damage may take some time to sort out.

By Monday, for the most part, the expectation is business as usual.


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