Gulf Coast Colleges, Students Grapple With Disaster

Many students evacuated to other cities as colleges remain without power.

Students gearing up for the fall semester at colleges in Louisiana and Mississippi found themselves fleeing the area instead after Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Gulf Coast early this week.

On Tuesday, New Orleans’ Tulane University sent 400 students to Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi, but after Katrina’s remnants brought even worse devastation there, some evacuees were then transported to Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, Tulane officials said. Nearly 275 Tulane students are staying at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

According to the school’s Web site, Tulane facilities were severely damaged in the storm, with the uptown campus covered with debris from fallen trees. It also does not have power.

“Our first priority during this time is the safety of our faculty, staff and students,” Tulane President Scott S. Cowen wrote in a post on the site. “Thankfully, everyone associated with the university is safe, including those of us who remain [here].”

“It is difficult to describe what this situation feels like for those involved,” Cowen wrote. “It is surreal and unfathomable, yet there is light at the end of the tunnel. Our focus is on the light and not the darkness.”

It is impossible to do any long-term recovery planning until conditions stabilize, Cowen added. Tulane officials also said the school would be shut down indefinitely while it recovers from Hurricane Katrina’s wrath, which has so far claimed hundreds of lives with thousands more feared dead (see “Katrina Devastates New Orleans; Mississippi Death Toll Rises To Over 110″ ). Eighty-percent of New Orleans remains flooded with water up to 20 feet deep.

Other universities have served as shelters and safe houses for local residents unable to make their way out of the region. On Tuesday, military helicopters started ferrying people to Louisiana State University’s Baton Rouge campus, LSU newspaper The Reveille reported. Its stadium has been transformed into a makeshift helicopter pad and the school has been working in cooperation with the Red Cross, the Department of Health and other rescue efforts to provide medical care to evacuees.

Meanwhile, in Mississippi, classes resumed at five out of the eight public institutions. The University of Mississippi and Delta State University reopened their doors Tuesday, while Mississippi State University, Mississippi State University for Women and Mississippi Valley State University started back up Wednesday (August 31), according to The Clarion-Ledger, a Jackson newspaper.

Five more schools — Jackson State University, University of Southern Mississippi, Tougaloo College, Millsaps College and Belhaven College — are slated to resume classes September 6.

Alcorn State University and Mississippi College remain without power and have not yet set a date for students to return to campus.