Just days into the new school year, hundreds of schools and universities across four states shut their doors as communities braced for Hurricane Dorian, which was expected to bring high winds and heavy rain to the U.S. mainland.
The storm delivered unprecedented damage to the Bahamas, where aerial footage showed widespread flooding and destruction. As it turned toward the U.S. mainland, officials in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas responded with mandatory evacuations and widespread school closures in coastal communities.
Hundreds of thousands of students have been affected by the closures, an interruption that comes at the start of the school year. And many schools are still recovering from damage from earlier storms, including from Hurricane Florence, which devastated the beachside community of Wilmington, N.C., and parts of South Carolina almost exactly a year ago.
More than 40 school districts in Florida closed as a precaution Tuesday, and several planned to remain closed longer. Flooding on the state’s Treasure Coast was reported Tuesday afternoon. Several college and university campuses were also closed, including the University of Central Florida in Orlando, which has more than 60,000 students.
In Georgia, schools in at least five counties along the Atlantic coast closed as Gov. Brian Kemp (R) ordered mandatory evacuations. Other school systems further inland shuttered as they turned into makeshift shelters for residents forced to leave their homes.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) on Sunday night ordered eight counties, including Charleston, to cancel classes this week as they remained under threat from the hurricane.
The College of Charleston posted an alert at the top of its website declaring classes were canceled “until further notice due to storm preparation.” Students were ordered to make plans to leave campus by noon Tuesday and were issued a list of tips to secure their rooms, including admonitions to remove trash and food to avoid pests, and to “move items off the floor (especially if you are on the first floor) in the event that flooding may occur.”
The Citadel, a military academy, also evacuated.
For faculty, staff and students at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, where a mandatory evacuation was underway, memories of Florence remained fresh. A building in the middle of campus is still under construction after withstanding damage last year, when classes were canceled for a month in the wake of the storm. School spokeswoman Janine Iamunno said it is up to instructors to decide how they want to make up the lost week.
The campus announced Monday that it would close for the week, and administrators were telling students to evacuate by 5 p.m. Tuesday. The school ran shuttles from the campus to other state universities farther inland, where students would wait out the storm.
Caitlin Daly, a freshman who plays softball for the school, was attracted to the beachside campus because she wants to study marine biology. She moved into her dorm two weeks ago and had just put finishing touches on the suite she shares with teammates when the evacuation was ordered.
The 18-year-old from Michigan said she is accustomed to snow days, but the hurricane evacuation was jarring, coming in the midst of a sunny day.
“It was unsettling,” Daly said, having just arrived at her family home in Michigan after a 13-hour drive. She fretted about what the storm would mean for the school. “I’m worried about the campus,” she said.