Just a week into a new school year, 175 students at The George Washington University had to evacuate after inspectors found evidence of water infiltration in several townhouse units.
Just after 6 p.m. Sunday, notices were placed on the doors to several townhouses along 23rd Street NW. Known as Townhouse Row, the buildings house members of several sororities and fraternities at the university.
An email was also sent to residents, informing them of what university officials called "environmental concerns" caused by water infiltration. An investigation began after students in two units reported concerns last week.
"It was very stressful, and it really happened around 6:15, and by 10 p.m., everyone had to be out with all their stuff they'd need for three nights," said student Amanda Thau, who was among those evacuated.
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"Nobody knew what was going on; the email said environmental issues," Thau said.
A university spokesperson sent News4 a statement which said in part, "We asked all students in the complex to move while we are continuing further investigation out of an abundance of caution."
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The spokesperson said the university responded to the first report on Tuesday, Aug. 31 and "conditions conducive to biological growth" were found at a second townhouse on Friday, Sept. 3.
"Based on the initial findings, additional investigation will be required to identify the source and then perform the work necessary to remedy the issue," the spokesperson said.
The university spokesperson said no students were sent to the hospital for medical treatment, and they weren't aware of any students who have been admitted to a hospital.
"We are hearing of a few instances where students have independently sought medical attention on their own. They are now letting us know of their symptoms because they are aware of the communications we have issued," the spokesperson said. "We appreciate these students reaching out to let us know of their health situation as it helps us in our ongoing investigation."
In the email sent to students, GW officials said, "We will not know the full extent of the repair needed until a more extensive investigation occurs behind the walls, but we anticipate your relocation will be for at least 2-3 weeks. We realize that this is unexpected and an inconvenience to move at the beginning of the semester. We pledge to continue providing you with information and updates."
According to GW's housing website, Townhouse Row opened in fall 2003 and consists of eight houses designed for members of Greek organizations. Each townhouse can house 24-30 residents. The houses have finished basements, living and dining areas and full kitchens.
The students have been moved to nearby hotels.
"It looked like we were packing up for a hurricane," Thau said. "Everyone was coming with massive, massive amounts of bags. The hotel people were all helping us, but also the regular residents of that hotel were like, 'Oh my God, what's going on?'"
The students were told that professional movers will remove their remaining belongings later this week
Another student, who didn't want to give his name but said he's a junior, said he thought the evacuation was very quick.
"I was told it was very urgent, so I literally came with just what I have in my backpack," he said. "I stuffed some clothes in there."
"It's a little disappointing, I have to be honest," he said, "because we had our entire year last year all online and no full freshman year, and now, I mean, three out of the 15 weeks, potentially, we might not even be on campus."
The university plans to brief students and parents Wednesday.