Carolina Schools Are Closed, Devastated in Wake of Hugo

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More than 200,000 students could not attend school last week after Hurricane Hugo slammed into the Carolinas, causing tens of millions of dollars in damage to hundreds of schools.

For many students in North and South Carolina, last week's school lessons were replaced by hard lessons in basic survival.

"Right now the people of Charleston are worried about and dealing with food, clothing, and shelter," said Robert E. Burke, superintendent of schools in Charleston County, S.C. "Schools are down the line a little bit, and they should be."

The hurricane, which first came ashore at Charleston late on Sept. 21, tore a path through the midsections of the Carolinas the next day, devastating homes, leaving vast areas without power, and threatening to cripple the state's tourism-dependant economy.

No school-related injuries were reported, officials said, noting that educational facilities in the two states had been closed or evacuated well in advance of the storm.

However, tens of thousands of students were expected to be out of school for weeks while roofs are repaired, power is restored, cafeterias are resupplied, and roads are cleared of debris and power lines.

In the meantime, many schools are being used as shelters, and American Red Cross volunteers have fanned out to schools to help children cope with fears left by the storm.

In Charleston alone, damage to schools has been estimated at $50 million, said Mr. Burke, who mobilized school employees to help provide disaster relief.

He said he did not expect any schools in the 45,000-student Charleston County district, the nation's 75th largest, to open until at least Oct. 9. And many, he said, may be closed for weeks after that.

All of the district's schools were damaged--more than a third severely--with significant roof damage and massive water damage to textbooks, computers, and other supplies. The storm also destroyed or damaged a large percentage of the district's 315 portable classrooms, Mr. Burke said.

Also hard-hit in South Carolina were Berkely County, where 10 of the district's 36 schools suffered major roof damage; Horry County,4where five schools lost 80 percent of their roofs; the Sumter and Florence areas; and the Low Country along the Atlantic Ocean.

In Charlotte, N.C., officials reported about $11.2 million in damage to schools, and classes were postponed at least until this week.

As of early last week, only 36 of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg district's 109 schools had power. Fallen trees and power lines had made eight schools at least partly inaccessible, and four were being repaired for roof damage, said Myra J. Joines, a district spokesman.

South Carolina Superintendent of Education Charlie G. Williams was scheduled to call a special meeting of local superintendents this week to formulate plans for making up lost class time and to assess damage reports.

Alan L. Pollack, assistant executive director of the South Carolina Budget and Control Board, said last week that the state had just begun to assess the storm's damage but that preliminary estimates are that the hurricane caused $3 billion to $5 billion in destruction to property and left 224,000 people jobless. In addition, he said, officials have estimated that the state may incur a $200 million deficit this year as a result of the storm.

Officials also warned last week that the states and local districts will feel the storm's impact on their budgets long after school buildings are back in operation.

Not only will the high cost of repairs pinch budgets, they noted, but school revenues will decrease as a result of the storm's damage to taxable property. (Officials said South Carolina school districts derive 25 percent to 30 percent of their revenue through property taxes.)

South Carolina officials said that insurance should pay for most school repairs and that immediate cleanups are being heavily financed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Twelve South Carolina counties had qualified for federal disaster assistance as of mid-week last week.

In the meantime, the South Carolina Education Department reported that school officials from across the nation have been calling to offer help. The Fulton County Public Schools in Atlanta, for example, volunteered a warehouse stocked with $4 million in school supplies.

Vol. 09, Issue 05

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