Texas Colleges Brave Harvey

Hurricane prompts evacuations, as well as delays in move-in days and starts of academic years for colleges along the Gulf Coast and in Houston area.

August 28, 2017
 
Damage at Texas A&M, Corpus Christi, was minimal, officials said.

Tropical Storm Harvey continued to pummel southeast Texas on Sunday after downgrading from hurricane status, as flooding progressed, the death toll rose to five in Houston and calls were put out by authorities to coordinate with boat-owning citizens for rescue operations.

For colleges in the area, from Corpus Christi to Beaumont, the storm caused delays and evacuations, although they seemed to largely escape any serious damage. Photos posted to social media by those on the ground showed flooding at the University of Houston, as some parts of the city and surrounding area saw residents taking to their roofs to stay out of the water.

“It’s going to be a long night,” the university tweeted on Saturday. “Be safe, Houston.”

The University of Houston is set to remain closed through Wednesday, the university said. Classes had started on Aug. 21, although the university had closed for the storm by 1 p.m. on Friday. The university's Twitter page was dotted with updates detailing the storm on Sunday and, at one point, a tornado warning. One residence hall was evacuated due to flooding, which meant about 140 students had to be moved, a university spokesman said.

About 2,000 of the university’s 8,000 residential students were still on campus on Sunday, spokesman Mike Rosen said, including 75 students who were evacuated from the university’s campus in Victoria. 

“We are stocked with plenty of food and other essentials,” Rosen said in an email. Damage was described as “minor structure flooding in some usual spots,” due to “very heavy rains on and off.”

Rice University, also in Houston, documented damages to its campus on its website, including “minor leaks and flooding,” as well as two fallen trees. Classes had started on Aug. 21, though the campus is set to be closed through Tuesday.

Flooding was also seen at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, documented in a video below.

Future college students in Texas who had been planning to take the SAT on Saturday will have to make new plans. The College Board called off plans to offer the SAT at 138 testing centers in the state.

Reached by phone in College Station, Michael Fossum, chief operating officer of Texas A&M Galveston, said that the institution had evacuated about 71 students -- and one dog -- to the flagship campus there, along with some employees.

Despite being slightly soggy, Fossum said the the evacuation had gone smoothly, and students were staying in residence halls at the College Station campus. Students evacuated by the university were “ones that did not have another place to go,” Fossum said, including out-of-state and international students.

“We have a command center set up here, with full internet and support,” Fossum said. “When your campus is on the coast, you’ve got to be ready for this sort of thing. We drill this.”

“We made the call, and everybody knew what to do,” he said.

Damage to the Galveston campus was minimal, Fossum said, although “unbelievable rates of rainfall” had flooded much of the region, including roads leading to campus. Officials were keeping tabs on professors and students in the Galveston area.

“Our concern right now is that, all of our students that we have up here at College Station are safe, but we don’t know about students that went home with families,” he said. “We know that a lot of homes started flooding, and did flood through the night last night in the Houston-Galveston area.”

Classes, which were supposed to start on Monday, have been delayed until Sept. 4, depending on how quickly the area and community is able to turn around.

“We know of some employees who had bad flooding in their homes,” he said. “You’re concerned, of course, for the individuals, because they’re part of our family. And from the university’s bigger picture point of view, if we have too many people who have had their homes flooded, then that has the potential to affect our plans for getting back to normal business.”

Things were relatively calmer at Lamar University, in Beaumont, near Louisiana, though the institution cancelled its first two days of class, originally scheduled for Monday and Tuesday. On the other end of the coast, Texas A&M Corpus Christi reported damage to its campus, although assessments were “promising,” according to emergency management messages posted to its website. As of Sunday, the city remained under a water-boil advisory, and up to 210,000 people were without power.

The university closed at noon on Thursday, and as of Sunday the university was closed until at least Sept. 5, delaying move-in day and the start of classes. 

“A full timeline for campus re-opening is still in development and will include enough time for all students to move into their campus housing before classes start,” the university said in a statement.

“Thankfully, we were spared major structural damage,” spokeswoman Luisa Buttler said in an email.

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