Hur­ri­cane Michael shut­ters hun­dreds of schools from Florida to Vir­ginia

The Washington Post - - THE WORLD - BY MORIAH BALINGIT Laura Meck­ler con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Hun­dreds of schools in Florida, North Carolina and Vir­ginia were shut­tered Fri­day as com­mu­ni­ties in the path of Hur­ri­cane Michael be­gan to pick up the pieces from one of the strong­est storms ever recorded in the United States.

The hur­ri­cane made land­fall Wed­nes­day in the Florida Pan­han­dle and then ripped through Ge­or­gia — where some schools closed ear­lier this week — North Carolina and Vir­ginia. Of­fi­cials re­ported the storm killed at least 15 peo­ple, in­clud­ing five in Vir­ginia.

Com­mu­ni­ties in the Florida Pan­han­dle were hard­est hit. High winds stripped build­ings from their foun­da­tions along the coast, and heavy rains left some com­mu­ni­ties un­der­wa­ter.

In Florida, eight county school sys­tems re­mained closed Fri­day, in­clud­ing Bay Dis­trict Schools, where re­cov­ery was ham­pered by downed cell­phone tow­ers and power out­ages. The school sys­tem in­cludes the tiny town of Mex­ico Beach, Fla., where aerial footage showed en­tire blocks of houses had been sheered from their foun­da­tions. Sev­eral schools served as shel­ters for fam­i­lies dis­placed by the storm. At Ruther­ford High in Panama City, Fla., chil­dren and their par­ents slept in school hall­ways, tak­ing shel­ter from the hur­ri­cane.

“We do not yet have a time­line for re­turn­ing to school be­cause we have not been able to com­plete a dam­age as­sess­ment on our build­ings let alone make plans for re­pairs. Much of the county is still with­out power and there is lit­tle to no cell ser­vice in town,” an of­fi­cial posted to the school sys­tem’s Face­book page Thurs­day.

Aerial footage taken by WX Chas­ing showed that the storm had oblit­er­ated the gym­na­sium at Jinks Mid­dle School in Panama City, blow­ing out two walls and peel­ing the metal roof back half­way. The rub­ble-strewn gym floor glis­tened with rain­wa­ter and cham­pi­onship ban­ners flut­tered in the wind.

Jinks Mid­dle School Prin­ci­pal Britt Smith told CNN that the footage was dif­fi­cult to watch, re­call­ing the bas­ket­ball games, vol­ley­ball games and mid­dle school grad­u­a­tions that took place there.

“It was heart-wrench­ing, be­cause I know that for our kids and our com­mu­nity, that gym is a hub,” Smith told.

Bay Dis­trict Su­per­in­ten­dent Bill Hus­felt said he had lit­tle ac­cess to com­mu­ni­ca­tion but sent an en­cour­ag­ing tweet to the com­mu­nity Thurs­day: “Our hearts are with our com­mu­nity dur­ing this dev­as­tat­ing time. Please fo­cus on tak­ing care of your fam­i­lies.”

The storm also closed col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties in Florida. Florida A&M Uni­ver­sity and Florida State Uni­ver­sity — both are in the cap­i­tal city, Tal­la­has­see — were closed Tues­day through Fri­day.

The hur­ri­cane also tore through Tyn­dall Air Force Base, which sits not far from where the storm made land­fall. Fam­i­lies liv­ing there were evac­u­ated, and pub­lic schools on the base were closed. “There is no power, wa­ter or sewer ser­vice to the base at this time,” the Air Force said in a state­ment. That in­cludes a fam­ily child care cen­ter and Tyn­dall El­e­men­tary School, both lo­cated on the base.

In North Carolina, Char­lot­teMeck­len­burg Schools and the school sys­tem in Union County re­mained closed Fri­day af­ter the storm knocked out power in those com­mu­ni­ties, ac­cord­ing to the Char­lotte Ob­server. Four other North Carolina coun­ties have not re­opened schools since Hur­ri­cane Florence swamped the state in mid-Septem­ber.

Schools in 21 Vir­ginia coun­ties closed Fri­day be­cause of flood­ing and power out­ages re­lated to the storm, ac­cord­ing to the Rich­mond Times-Dis­patch.

The spate of school clos­ings comes a year af­ter hurricanes forced the can­cel­la­tion of classes — some­times for months — in Hous­ton and Puerto Rico, among the na­tion’s 10-largest school sys­tems. Dozens of schools were closed per­ma­nently in Puerto Rico be­cause of dam­age or flag­ging en­roll­ment.

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