Some university campuses in NC struggle to reopen after Florence

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UNC-Wilmington and UNC-Pembroke are still assessing damage and haven’t set a date for students to return after Hurricane Florence.

Many public university campuses, including N.C. A&T, N.C. Central, N.C. State, UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Charlotte, UNC-Greensboro and Winston-Salem State, were closed Monday but said they would reopen for classes on Tuesday. Several were already operating normally.

Others will resume instruction later this week. East Carolina University plans to start classes Wednesday, with dorms opening on Tuesday. Appalachian State students are also expected to resume classes Wednesday.

Fayetteville State University said it would start classes on Monday, Sept. 24, but students should not return until Sept. 23.

Similarly, seven of the state’s 58 community colleges won’t reopen this week — Brunswick, Cape Fear, Carteret, Coastal Carolina, Craven, Fayetteville Technical Community College and Pamlico, according to community college system spokesman Brian Long. More than 30 were closed Monday but most planned to be up and running this week.

The problems are more severe for UNCW and UNCP, which are campuses in areas with flooding and without power.

UNC-Pembroke will remain closed through at least Wednesday but possibly longer. The university instructed students not to return until they have been notified that it’s safe to do so.

UNC-Wilmington posted a message Monday saying the campus would not reopen this week; a firm date for reopening has not been set, but reports of the semester being canceled are false, the university stressed.

University officials in Wilmington also are trying to dispel rumors on social media that the campus was heavily damaged, including a dire description of the science building, Dobo Hall, losing its roof. The university said the building had sustained damage, “but not irreversible damage,” according to a post on Facebook Sunday.

“Remember that rumors of campus or city damage, open or closed roadways, or our reopening should not be considered fact,” the university’s Facebook page continued Monday. “We can stand behind only the messaging sent via campus email or posted on the university’s Facebook feed or on this temporary homepage. We are not yet in a position to respond to individual questions about campus status or the potential impact on our academic calendar.”

UNCW and UNCP started relief funds to help its students who have been affected by the storm. Donations can be made at special websites here and here.

Because car travel across North Carolina is still dangerous in many places, universities said they would be flexible with students who can’t make it back to campus on time. Gov. Roy Cooper warned motorists Monday to stay off the highways as much as possible, especially roads south of U.S. 64, as rivers crest in the coming days.

UNCP Chancellor Robin Cummings wrote in an online update Monday that a large part of his campus was covered with standing water. The flood is receding, he said. UNCP has been used as a staging ground for first responders from Colorado and Oklahoma, as well as North Carolina.

“This road to recovery will be long, and no doubt challenging at times, but working together, we will see it through,” Cummings’ message said.

In a blog on the UNC system’s Hurricane Florence website, UNC President Margaret Spellings said she had reached out to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for special flexibility, just as the University of Houston had done last year after Hurricane Harvey.

That could mean an increase in financial aid for families affected by the storm or alternatives for making up lost academic time, she wrote. It could also allow the system to shift some students to other campuses in the UNC system.

“We’re exploring all available options if needed to ensure that students can stay on-track to graduate, from providing access to courses through UNC Online to placing students at non-affected UNC System institutions,” Spellings wrote.

UNCW’s Facebook page brimmed with supportive comments from students and families, with one suggesting that parents’ weekend be turned in to a campuswide cleanup.

University of Houston tweeted to UNCW: “We are thinking of you today, Seahawks! Stay together, stay strong and you will endure.”