Hurricane Ida on Sunday crashed through Louisiana’s coast and onto neighboring Mississippi, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without power, including the city of New Orleans. Colleges and universities in and near the city are now tackling another crisis on top of the Delta variant’s spread as the academic year begins.
“We came back this semester to be face-to-face for the first time,” said Dr. James H. Ammons Jr., Chancellor of Southern University at New Orleans (SUNO). “And now with the loss of power in the city, that educational process will be interrupted for several days, perhaps weeks.”
Ida made landfall in Louisiana as a Category 4 hurricane. On Monday, it was downgraded to a tropical storm. SUNO is one of eight colleges and universities in New Orleans that weathered Ida’s havoc. Another 40 higher education institutions are within 100 miles of the city.
“The hurricane struck New Orleans on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina,” said Ammons of the Category 5 hurricane that devastated New Orleans in late August 2005, killing more than 1,800 people and costing the city $125 billion in damages. “Ida now came at the height of a surge in the coronavirus pandemic, which added challenges for the university and the larger community.”
Many higher education institutions that were impacted by Ida, including SUNO, were closed on Monday and will remain so until Wednesday, possibly longer, depending on when the power is restored.
Tulane University, a fellow institution in New Orleans, announced that the campus will be closed and classes cancelled through Sunday, September 12. Classes will start online only from September 13 through October 6 as the city works to reinstate power.
"We are very thankful and counting our blessings – not least among them our students, faculty and staff," said Dr. Michael Fitts, president of Tulane. "We are continually amazed and humbled by the Tulane community's fortitude, positivity and exceptional personal commitment. Many in our region have experienced widespread damages and we plan to participate in relief efforts to support our neighbors in need."
Loyola University New Orleans similarly announced plans to start online classes again on September 13 given the uncertainty around when power and critical services will be back up and running in New Orleans. Before the storm, the vast majority of Loyola University's students had been evacuated. About 350 students of the total population of 4,500 students stayed on campus and were safe in the storm. The University is helping them relocate.
At SUNO, there were 41 students living in campus housing who are now being transported to the university's Baton Rouge campus. While there was no major damage to the New Orleans campus from Ida, Ammons said that the educational recovery will be a challenge for all.
“The hurricane has just interrupted a semester that had so much hope because we were bringing our students back,” he said. “All of us in higher education have a huge responsibility of making certain that our students get the necessary skills to be competitive when many are delivering our programs virtually. We want to get back to a normal educational environment as soon as possible.”