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Mock trial team stuck in NYC storm

WLHS students, chaperones hope to fly out following Hurricane Sandy this Saturday


Members of West Linn High School’s mock trial team are among thousands stranded in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

The team of eight West Linn High School students — seven seniors and one junior — coach Matt Kellogg and three others flew into New York on Oct. 24 for the Empire Mock Trial event scheduled for Saturday to Monday.by: CLAIRE OLIVER - Former West Linn Tidings reporter Claire Oliver, who now lives in New York City, shot this photo of some trees that fell on a street sign during Hurricane Sandy.  SUBMITTED PHOTO: CLAIRE OLIVER

The team was scheduled to fly home Monday, but its flight — and thousands of others — was canceled.

“We started trying to get early flights on Saturday, but everyone was trying to do that,” said chaperone Deb Sheaffer, whose daughter, Mary Earp, is a senior on the team, by telephone on Monday, as the storm approached the East Coast. “We were hoping to get out before now. I think we’re all a little bit nervous.

“It’s a hurricane that’s going to be here in about an hour.”

The New York Times reported more than 15,500 flights were canceled across the East Coast due to the storm. As of Tuesday morning, the three major New York airports remained closed. Travel experts said it could take several days for passengers to be re-booked.

The mock trial team has been staying at the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge, 33 Adams St., in the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood. Neighborhoods in the area, including Brooklyn, Queens and in New Jersey, flooded; however, the students’ hotel continued to have power and had not flooded as of Tuesday. Sheaffer said the hotel appeared to be understaffed but had been accommodating.

“Teams from all over the world are stuck here,” she said, noting that the hotel seemed full.

Regardless, the West Linn team planned for the worst. Kellogg and his wife stocked up on food and water over the weekend. Students kept on just one cellphone at a time to ensure they didn’t drain their batteries in case the power went out, and they developed a phone tree list for parents and emergency contacts.

The West Linn team finished competing on Sunday. Several teams left the competition early because of the storm. Sheaffer said West Linn did well but did not make it to the championship round.

The post-tropical cyclone made landfall at about 8 p.m. Monday, spreading tropical-storm-force winds — maximum sustained winds of 65 miles per hour — out 485 miles from its center. The strong winds were expected to stretch as far as Canada and the Great Lakes, bringing with them deadly falling trees and heavy snow.

The Associated Press reported 38 storm-related deaths on Tuesday. President Barack Obama declared a federal disaster area on Oct. 30 in New York City, Long Island and eight counties in New Jersey.

“We all feel very safe because where the hotel is, we’re surrounded by other buildings. So the wind’s not that bad,” senior Megan Mueller told KPTV on Monday. “We know that where we are is a really safe place. We’re high up on the hotel, so it’s not going to flood where we are.”

The students stayed busy by finishing homework and class assignments. They had other classes to worry about, Sheaffer said, noting the students were sprawled out among hotel rooms and hallways.

“Today in the hotel room, the seven seniors all read ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ to each other so we could get caught up with that,” Mueller said. “So that was kind of fun.”

The students have been in contact with parents; however, they have also had trouble with their cellphones. There must be some cell tower damage, because the phones were only working part of the time, Sheaffer said Tuesday. Senior Allisen Haggard said the students plan to fly home this coming Saturday — but nothing is certain.

“Morale seems pretty good,” she said. “We mostly haven’t been affected. It’s completely normal. We’re actually at a restaurant right now.”

The team’s coach, Kellogg, sent a letter to parents in Oregon saying “their biggest problem was boredom.”



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