Texas colleges directly in the path of Hurricane Harvey remained closed Wednesday, with no plans to reopen until after Labor Day. But even those far from the worst of the storm felt its impact redefining the beginning of the school year.
The University of Houston-Downtown had a building that flooded, and has struggled with power and communication issues for the past day or two. Its website and email had been down, but they were up and running late Wednesday after crews worked around the clock, said spokesman Mike Emery. Some students and staff had to find other places to stay, he said, and some staff members said they had lost everything in the storm and its aftermath.
But Emery had also heard from students volunteering at the convention center, he said.
“When people are knocked down, they’ll get back up and help somebody else,” Emery said.
“We’re staying together, the best we can, to support one another,” he added.
The state’s flagship university felt the storm, as well.
At the University of Texas at Austin, a marine science institute was heavily damaged by the storm. As classes began Wednesday, an estimated 1,500 students weren’t there.
Almost 40 percent of the school’s undergraduates, and more than a third of its 51,000 students overall, were from counties that have been declared disaster areas.
— Greg Fenves (@gregfenves) August 30, 2017
“To our UT students and their families who have been directly affected by the storm, know this — The University of Texas stands with you during this challenging time,” President Gregory Fenves said in a message to the campus community.
While many of their students returned to Austin last week, others are still at home, he wrote. “Our thoughts and prayers are with you as we await your return to campus.”
He reassured students unable to be there for the start of classes that the university would accommodate them, with faculty members asked to give maximum flexibility for people affected by Hurricane Harvey, and added that counseling services available.
“Our hearts really go out to the people of Houston,” a city that is home to many alumni, Fenves said by phone.
Student groups have already mobilized with food drives, fundraising and efforts to donate blood, he said. They canceled a traditional big campus welcome celebration, but at their opening college football game this weekend they’ll raise money for first responders and the Red Cross.
And they’re drawing on another strength: research. “This is an epic disaster,” Fenves said. Texas is accustomed to hurricanes, he said, but the scale of this storm is unprecedented. Anticipating a major rebuilding effort in Houston, he said many faculty members are engaged in data collection that will help the city understand the impact of the flooding and determine how best to respond.
It’s the first natural disaster with such an enormous amount of data that can be analyzed, he said, including information from satellites and aerial reconnaissance that can tell where water is falling and how it’s moving, data on the reservoir and water systems, and on 911 calls, all of which can help inform emergency response and plans.
“The University of Texas at Austin is really committed to help rebuild the city of Houston,” Fenves said.