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Editor's note: This story has been updated with new details about when class will resume at the University of Houston and the response by the University of Texas at Austin.
Colleges in Houston have canceled class and evacuated some student housing as Hurricane Harvey’s rain keeps falling and floodwaters keep rising. But most universities along the coast appear to have avoided catastrophic damage from the storm so far.
Still, university officials acknowledged Monday that their fall semesters could be hugely disrupted by the unprecedented storm. And instead of hosting celebratory cookouts and get-to-know-you events, campuses are worrying about the safety of their students and the structural integrity of their buildings.
“While we have gotten off relatively lightly so far, we are located right in the center of Houston, and anywhere you look around us, it is devastation that we have not seen at this scale before,” said University of Houston spokesman Mike Rosen. “We have 45,000 students. They are spread throughout the Houston area. We have thousands of faculty and staff and all of them are impacted by the storm.”
UH has officially canceled class until next Tuesday — the day after Labor Day. But it’s still to soon to know what the next few weeks will look like at the university, Rosen said.
“This is not a city that is ready to get back to work and back to school in the next couple of days.”
All things considered, UH’s campus is in pretty good shape. About three buildings have taken on water. And while about 140 students had to be evacuated from Bayou Oaks, a university-owned, off-campus apartment complex for older and international students, the rest of the dorms are safe for now. There were about 2,000 students living on campus Monday night, and the school’s dining halls were serving food from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m.
School officials estimated that the campus has received about 35 inches of rain during the storm so far.
On her Twitter account, UH President Renu Khator has posted pictures of herself eating and visiting with students on campus. She has also fielded requests for help from students staying elsewhere. Early Monday morning, Sushma Swaraj, India's minister of external affairs, tweeted that about 200 Indian UH students were marooned at or around the university; "They are surrounded by neck deep water," she wrote. But the university's president, Renu Khator, said the students were relocated safely.
"They were safe on 2nd floor with food for last night," Khator wrote on Twitter. "They are being evacuated now."
About 75 students from the University of Houston-Victoria had also been bused onto the Houston campus to ride out the storm.
Less than a mile away, Texas Southern University, faces a similar situation.The historically black university has reported that all 500 students holed up on campus are safe. Classes are canceled there through Wednesday.
At Rice University in Houston, classes are canceled through Wednesday. Libraries and recreational centers remained open to students, however, and all the dining halls were serving food. The university has reported two fallen trees on campus and minor damage to 12 buildings. Most of that damage is the result of leaks, although at least three buildings had their basements flooded.
A similar story has played out at community colleges in the area. Thirteen community colleges have canceled classes or delayed the start of the semester. Victoria College has lost power, while Alvin Community College has lost the use of most of its IT systems. Overall, however, damage has been minimal, according to the Texas Association of Community Colleges. View a full list of closures here.
Outside of Houston, many other schools have canceled class or reported damage:
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi is on an island and appeared to be in the direct path of the storm, but university officials say that the campus fared well. Buildings only appeared to be hit with minor structural damage, though the school will more fully assess campus housing and other buildings in the coming days. The first day of class has been pushed back from Monday to Sept. 5.
"We are grateful that our campus fared relatively well in the storm, and we continue to turn our thoughts to those in the Coastal Bend community and beyond who were not as fortunate,” said President Kelly Quintanilla.
Texas A&M University-Kingsville canceled classes Monday but expects to return to normal operations Tuesday.
Texas A&M University in College Station has canceled classes for Monday and Tuesday. The university's Galveston branch will now begin class on Sept. 4. The Galveston campus reported no major building damage or flooding.
The University of Texas at Austin has reported "extensive damage" to its Marine Sciences Institute of Port Aransas. President Greg Fenves said in a statement that "several buildings experienced roof failures and serious water damage. Staff members will not be able to reoccupy the buildings until extensive repairs have been made." In the meantime, the institute will use facilities at A&M-Corpus Christi. The fall semester is expected to begin on schedule Wednesday, but professors have been told to "provide the greatest level of flexibility and support for students impacted by the storm."
Lamar University in Beaumont pushed the start of class back to Aug. 30 due to heavy rain.
Texas State University in San Marcos canceled classes Monday, but is expected to return to normal Tuesday. Aside from some leaks, buildings avoided major damage.
Disclosure: The University of Houston, the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University, Texas A&M University-Kingsville, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and Rice University have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.
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