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3 at UNH burned as hot water pipe bursts in dorm

Union Leader Correspondent
New Hampshire Sunday News

April 06. 2013 8:42PM

Three female students suffered serious burns to their feet in what the fire chief called a "freak accident" at a at dormitory at the University of New Hampshire Durham campus Saturday afternoon.

About 2:30 p.m., a pipe carrying hot water broke outside Hunter Hall, which houses about 115 undergraduates. When the building's fire alarms went off, three female students were scalded as they fled the dorm through ankle-deep water that may have been as hot as 150 degrees, officials said.

Two of the students were taken to Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover; the third was taken to Portsmouth Regional Hospital. All three were later transferred to Boston hospitals with what were believed to be third-degree burns, according to Erika Mantz, director of UNH media relations.

In a statement Saturday, UNH President Mark Huddleston said, "I was devastated to learn three of our students suffered serious burns when this pipe failed."

"We have reached out to their families and will provide whatever assistance we can to help them through this difficult time," he said.

Durham Fire Chief Corey Landry said the pipe that broke was part of the building's heating system. When it broke, near the outside foundation, the scalding-hot water overflowed a trap and poured into the first floor of the dormitory. The steam from the hot water set off the building's fire alarms, and students began to evacuate.

Some students walked through the scalding water to get to a side door, Landry said, and the three injured women apparently were not wearing protective footwear. "It sounds like they didn't have shoes on, so they were exposed to the water on their skin immediately," he said.

"This was a freak accident," Landry said.

When emergency responders arrived, they found the three injured students had been helped to the curb by other students, the chief said. EMTs immediately began treating the victims, who were crying and in a lot of pain, he said.

Landry said more students could have been badly hurt if the incident had happened in the middle of the night. "That time of night, footwear tends to be slippers or sandals or nothing," he said.

Justin Doubleday, executive editor for The New Hampshire, the UNH newspaper, was one of the first reporters on the scene. At 2:56 p.m. Saturday, he got a text from a friend alerting him to the situation.

"There was steam billowing up from the ground," he said. "By the time I got there, the victims had already been taken to the hospital. There were people inside Hunter Hall checking things out."

Doubleday, a 21-year-old senior from Peterborough, said he spoke with one dorm resident who told him there had been a leak in the building about 90 minutes before the fire alarms went off. "She said someone had been working on it, and the water just started accumulating on the first floor of the building," he said. "And at that point, they all had to leave."

Doubleday said there wasn't any panic among students over the incident, but it was a topic of conversation on campus.

According to the UNH spokesman, the water damaged a small section of the first-floor hallway and four rooms.

Students were not allowed back into Hunter Hall until about 6 p.m.

Nearby Engelhardt Hall was briefly evacuated during the incident, but students were allowed back inside within about 15 minutes, Landry said.

Three residence halls were expected to be without heat for the night because they were all on the same system. Heaters were to be set up in Hunter, Gibbs and Engelhardt halls in the lower quad.

The pipe is expected to be repaired Sunday.

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