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Falling oak tree smashes student windows in Edwards Hall, causing evacuations

Edwards Hall in the foreground, with a large tree fallen on the right side of the building across Elm Drive.
The fallen tree in front of Edwards Hall.
Courtesy of Corey Segal

Around 4:45 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 23, a large red oak tree was uprooted by a gust of wind and fell across Elm Drive, shattering windows in two bathrooms and two dorm rooms in Edwards Hall.

The windy conditions — remnants of Tropical Storm Ophelia — continue to cause bad weather statewide in N.J. Oak trees, which weigh on average between one and two tons, are particularly susceptible to falls because of shallow roots relative to their height. 

According to University spokesperson Ahmad Rizvi, aside from the broken windows, there was no structural damage to the building. At the time of the uprooting, the University was not under any National Weather Service warnings.

“Out of an abundance of caution, Edwards Hall was evacuated to allow for a more thorough assessment and to remove the tree,” wrote Rizvi in a statement to The Daily Princetonian. 

A fire alarm was set off in the building around 6:00 a.m., over an hour after the collision, to awaken residents remaining inside. Students gathered outside before taking temporary shelter in nearby Dillon Gym.

Chloe Zhu ’27, an Edwards resident whose room faces away from the fallen tree, recalled waking at that time. Her RCA, however, had been sending updates since 4:48 a.m. 

“We walked back to Dillon through the rain and stayed there to try and figure out where we would go,” Zhu wrote to the ‘Prince.’ “At the time, it wasn’t clear how long it would take.”

Zhu reported that there were blankets being distributed, but she noted that there were “not nearly enough for everyone.”

Angela Cai ’27, another Edwards resident, also noted confusion and lack of preparedness at Dillon. “They just told us to find friends and sleep in their dorm for the rest of the morning,” wrote Cai. “My friends and I texted a bunch of people, but it was 6:00 a.m. on a Saturday, so obviously that wouldn’t work because they were all asleep.”

“All the supplies Princeton gave us were three blankets,” she added.

Dillon Gym has been used before as a temporary shelter in the past to house people during weather-related emergencies.

“The University has long standing plans to utilize various large spaces as temporary reception centers or shelters in the event of a student displacement,” wrote Rizvi. “These plans include provision for supplies, and the University emergency response team is always evaluating plans to make sure that they are responsive to current needs.”

At around 6:45 a.m., students taking shelter in Dillon Gym were taken to Whitman Dining Hall, where they were able to swipe in for breakfast. 

“Some people were upset that breakfast in Whitman, which was the only option open after the evacuation, required a swipe,” noted Sydney Eck ’24, a Peer Academic Advisor for a Zee group in Edwards Hall. “That was okay for my zees [first-year advisees] on the unlimited plan, but upperclassmen would have needed one of their precious meal swipes to get food after being evacuated.”

Eck is a former head Features editor for the ‘Prince.’

Students were told they would not be allowed to re-enter the building until the tree was completely cleared. The tree was eventually removed by a tree crew from Facilities and supplemented by outside contractors. The building was cleared for re-entry at 9:15 a.m.; however, staff continued clean-up work throughout the day.

Meghana Veldhuis is a contributing News writer for the ‘Prince.’

Tess Weinreich is an associate News editor for the ‘Prince.’

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