During Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans 12 years ago, many people were rescued from flooding and brought to the higher ground of the University of New Orleans campus.
But higher ground, a university spokesman pointed out, is a relative term. “In New Orleans, the whole city is more vulnerable than most places in the country,” Adam Norris said.
Many colleges in Louisiana, including those in New Orleans, canceled classes Tuesday as the remains of Hurricane Harvey spun toward the state with its bands of heavy rainfall.
The city was under a flash flood warning, and the mayor urged residents to stay off the streets, but as of Tuesday afternoon, the bands of rain had been far enough apart that pumps had been able to keep roads mostly clear, said Norris Yarbrough, assistant vice president for emergency preparedness response at Tulane University.
At Tulane, in addition to the National Weather Service, they have round-the-clock coverage from a contracted weather service that pinpoints their campus for detailed information about potential impact. With that forecast in hand, they proceeded with their scheduled move-in day on Friday, despite Harvey’s landfall that day. “It was spot-on,” Yarbrough said. “Absolutely no trouble getting flights in, and no rain on campus.”
As Harvey veered toward Louisiana, the rains came.
Tulane, like the University of New Orleans, is on higher ground; if the city is a bowl, they’re on a rim, with about half of the campus up above sea level, so Yarbrough is hopeful that flooding will be limited on campus.
“Unfortunately, this is something we have become very adept at handling over the years,” said Jim Henderson, president of the University of Louisiana system.
Most of the University of Louisiana campuses, were closed or had canceled classes Tuesday. In most cases damage was limited, Henderson said Tuesday, but roadways weren’t safe enough to ensure people could get to campus.
McNeese State University in Lake Charles, near the border with Texas, closed Monday and had already taken on several inches of rain, with more forecast, Henderson said. It will remain closed Wednesday.
Louisiana Tech University, in the northern part of the state, opened early to take in their large population of students from Texas who wanted to get to a safer place.
On the anniversary of Katrina, when devastation was so lasting that many students had to transfer to schools in other states, Henderson said people in the University of Louisiana system had been particularly mindful of how Texas schools had welcomed them. “They’re now looking to reciprocate,” he said, and find ways to help Texans. “A lot of people are hurting right now.”