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44 N.C. Schools Damaged in Hurricane Reopened

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North Carolina schools have rebounded from the damage caused by Hurricane Fran, and 44 schools that were closed temporarily have reopened, according to the state education department.

The storm that ripped through the state on Sept. 5 and 6 caused an estimated $24.5 million worth of damage to more than 900 schools, the education department said last week.

"We've lost books, buildings, or property in every system from Henderson to the coast," state Superintendent Bob Etheridge said in a statement.

Ben Matthews, the department's director of school support, said the damage "ran the spectrum from a single shingle blown off a corner to floors flooded in 36 inches of water."

Most minor damage, like broken shingles and scattered debris, was repaired immediately, he said.

But some counties were still struggling last week with major structural damage and flooding. In those areas, the total costs of the damage repairs will not be known for some time, Mr. Matthews said.

In the 20,000-student Onslow County district, one of the hardest hit, officials estimated the cost of damage from wind and rain at nearly $7 million, said Pete Andrews, a district spokesman. The roofs of three school gymnasiums were blown from the buildings, and will likely not be replaced until next summer, he said.

Despite the problems, students returned to school Sept. 11. "It's not perfect," Mr. Andrews said. "But parents needed their kids in schools, and we needed kids to keep learning and stay focused."

Repairs and cleanup allowed most students in New Hanover County, where the eye of Fran reached shore, to return to school Sept. 16, said Dale Martin, the superintendent of the 20,000-student district.

'Picking Up the Pieces'

However, students at the countywide district's Wrightsville Beach Elementary School, in Wilmington, weren't so lucky.

The school, about a mile from the Atlantic shore, suffered extensive wind and water damage, Mr. Martin said. The library and most of the cafeteria equipment were destroyed.

The district found temporary classroom space for the 227 students in a nearby Roman Catholic church.

Classes for the students will remain there for about two weeks, Mr. Martin said. "We're picking up the pieces and moving forward."

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