More than 5,000 staff and students were forced to evacuate the University of Lethbridge on Tuesday after a blocked pipe threatened to spread raw sewage across campus.
“It took us less than an hour to get people evacuated and it was very orderly,” said Nancy Walker, one of the vice-presidents at the southern Alberta institution, which has 7,000 students and a thousand staff.
Problems began around 9:30 a.m. when the main sewer line serving the campus became blocked with sewage. That forced a backup into the Students’ Union Building.
As officials tried to deal with that, raw sewage began backing up into the physical education centre. They knew then they had a much bigger problem.
“In order to stop sewage from coming into our buildings throughout our whole campus we had to shut down the water,” said Walker.
“And if you don’t have water, you don’t have washrooms, so we had to evacuate the university campus. We probably evacuated anywhere between (5,000) and 7,000 people this morning.”
Students and staff were alerted by email, digital sign boards and public address announcements. Extra buses were brought in. Staff went through buildings to make sure everyone was out.
Disaster recovery crews were called in to assess the damage.
The 600 students who live in residence on campus were supplied with food, bottled water and portable toilets.
There were no reports of injuries or people falling ill.
Classes were cancelled for the day. It was hoped classes could resume Wednesday.
Kevin Jensen, acting public operations manager for the City of Lethbridge, said crews were able to locate the blockage and were taking steps to flush it out.
– The Canadian Press