Four are dead and thousands are displaced after Hurricane Laura made landfall early Thursday in southwest Louisiana. Local schools there and along the Texas Gulf Coast remained closed for the rest of the week, and there were no confirmed reports about damage to school buses at this report.
Hurricane Laura was classified as a Category 4 with 150 mph winds, as it barreled into Cameron, Louisiana early Thursday morning. Laura, which has since been downgraded to a tropical storm as it moves into Arkansas before heading into the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys, was the second in back-to-back storms since Monday and the arrival of Tropical Storm Marco.
Some local school districts, like Houston ISD, have yet to start the new school year. But others, like Calcasieu Parish School Board in Lake Charles, Lousiana, started on Monday, only to promptly close because of the storms. The district, located just north of where Laura made landfall, closed all buildings and facilities and canceled all virtual learning for the week.
“Families can expect an update from us over the weekend as to the status of school for next week,” the district posted on its website. “Weather closure updates will be provided via phone calls and also available for viewing on our website and social media pages.”
Located just 60 miles to the west across the Texas border, Beaumont ISD got in a week of school before closing Monday for the storms. The area suffered extensive flooding from Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
Emails sent to both Beaumont ISD and Calcasieu Parish School Board seeking details on damage to student transportation operations had not been returned as of this report.
However, Michael Comeaux, the acting director of pupil transportation at the Louisiana Department of Education, told School Transportation News on Thursday that he had yet to receive any reports about damage to school buses.
Still, the storm surge from Laura was described by several local media outlets as 20 feet high. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday afternoon that rainfall, flooding and tropical-storm-force wind warnings remain in effect for Northern Louisiana, Arkansas and Western Mississippi.
President Donald Trump declared states of emergency for both Texas and Louisiana, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) mobilized federal response teams to both states as well as to Arkansas.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday that while his state escaped the magnitude of damage that was feared before Laura made landfall, “many communities in Southeast Texas have experienced significant damage from this storm.”
Earlier in the week, Abbott said the state provided buses to evacuate residents in southeast Texas to inland cities such as Austin, Dallas and San Antonio.
Houston ISD posted on its website Tuesday that all facilities would be closed Wednesday and Thursday, with employees expected to report back to work remotely on Friday. The district does not start the school year until Sept. 8.
Cypress-Fairbanks ISD west of Houston was also closed Wednesday and Thursday. It, too, starts the school year after Labor Day.
Exacerbating conditions, temperatures along the Gulf Coast were in the low to mid-90s.
Meanwhile, to the east, Mobile County Public Schools in Alabama was anticipating heavy rains, said Director of Transportation Pat Mitchell. Models published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show that path of Hurricane Laura after it makes landfall is expected to bring heavy rains to Arkansas, Missouri, the Tennessee Valley, and the Ohio Valley before heading northeast.
Earlier in the week, Tropical Storm Marco diminished by the time it made landfall on Monday. Still, its 40 mph winds and heavy rains forced the closure of 34 of Louisiana’s 69 school systems, a department of education spokesman told School Transportation News.
“Those [were] mostly in South Louisiana,” said Ted Beasley, the agency’s director of communications. “Schools are still reopening for the new school year. Our districts do offer transportation, though not if they are closed.”
Some parish school boards in New Orleans delayed their startup until after Labor Day, but others were slated to begin classes on Wednesday, reported George Horne, a student transportation consultant and a former local transportation director as well as district superintendent.
As of this report, Beasley said there were no official reports of damage to school buses due to Marco.