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Texas Colleges Clean Up After Hurricane Ike

While emergency crews in southeast Texas continued rescuing victims and trying to restore normalcy in the wake of Hurricane Ike, the resumption of college classes in the region was uncertain late Sunday.

Several universities and community colleges managed to post brief messages on their Web sites announcing cancellation of Monday’s classes while campus officials assessed damages and crews cleared debris. Among those affected are the University of Houston, one of the state’s largest schools with 34,000 enrolled, along with a sister school five miles away in downtown as well as a sister school in the nearby town of Clear Lake.

Institutions that expressed hope in their announcements of re-opening by Tuesday, such as Texas Southern University, also advised students and faculty to check phone hotlines and Web sites for updates before returning to campus.

More than 90 percent of homes and businesses – totaling as many as 5 million customers – lost electricity when Ike roared onto shore early Saturday, according to news reports. Across Galveston, Houston and the surrounding area into western Louisiana, wind gusts of 100 mph snapped countless power lines and knocked down poles. Floods initially complicated the task of restoring power. Yet, even as the waters receded, many streets and freeways remained impassable because of uprooted trees, fallen billboards and store awnings and broken glass blown out of windows along with other heavy debris.

Estimated at 500 miles across, Ike rivaled the size of Texas itself and was twice the size of most hurricanes that reach this country.

The coastal town of Galveston bore the brunt of the storm. Texas A&M University at Galveston suspended all operations through Wednesday. The University of Texas Medical Branch, a complex that is one of Galveston’s largest employers and includes a medical school and teaching hospital, took in about two feet of floodwaters, a published report said. Last week, UTMB evacuated 260 patients by ambulance and aircraft to other facilities in the state. That included more than 20 newborn babies.

The city of Houston, which is about 50 miles inland, imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew every night this week until Saturday morning to not only discourage looters, but also to reduce danger from inoperable or downed traffic lights.

Anticipating the worst, most universities and community colleges in the area cancelled classes, events and closed business offices last Friday or earlier.

Hurricane Ike arrived less than two weeks after Hurricane Gustav struck Louisiana’s coast. Universities in New Orleans and elsewhere in the state cancelled classes for several days and, in some cases, evacuated students prior to the storm’s arrival.

Classes and business operations soon resumed post-Gustav. But the emotional impact of natural disasters was apparent in remarks published on university Web sites by campus leaders, such as Dr. Marvalene Hughes, Dillard University president. On Sept.3, while she and other officials awaited restoration of power on campus, she reflected on “the strength of the people who are part of this … the strong resilience of our community … and the humanity of our survival.”

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