Of all the campuses, the three Brenau locations in Gainesville were the least of worries as the Southeastern United States braced for the ravages of Hurricane Irma. Brenau officials even went ahead and announced the closing of the Jacksonville, Florida, campus at midday on Thursday, Sept. 7, a full 72 hours before the front end of Irma was supposed to make landfall at the southern end of the state 500 miles away, and they thought seriously about closing Augusta early, too.
Yet, on Tuesday, Sept. 12, after the bulk of the tropical storm remnants of the hurricane had passed through North Georgia, it was the Gainesville campus that suffered the most damage, was without electrical power and would have to stay closed another day while Jacksonville and other campuses were planning to resume normal operations.
“Georgia Power Co. even went so far as to tell us last week that, unless a tree or a large limb fell directly across a power line, they doubted that we would even lose power during the storm,” said David Barnett, Brenau’s executive vice president and chief financial officer as he sat at a table in Hopkins Dining Hall, which was lighted by power from an emergency generator on the second day of a near-complete power outage on the campus and many other sections of Gainesville. Although there were several trees lost to the storm on the historic campus, none hit the power lines.
Although there were no injuries or any major structural damage from the high winds and heavy rains, there was plenty of evidence of Irma’s visit to Gainesville. The lawns collected pieces of shingles and other roofing materials. Trees and limbs did hit some buildings, but damage was moderate.
One of the fallen trees was a giant oak close to the entrance of Pearce Auditorium. As the tree fell, a giant limb and a portion of its trunk fell just on either side of the newly install sculpture of Harriet Tubman, but is was not damaged – symbolic because Tubman was noted for her narrow escapes helping slaves flee to freedom during the Civil War.