St. Louis Catholic

Damage from Hurricane Laura is shown at St. Louis Catholic High School in Lake Charles.

The Lake Charles public school system sustained about $300 million in damages when Hurricane Laura struck southwest Louisiana on Aug. 27, education officials said Wednesday.

In addition, the Category 4 storm damaged 142 buildings on 13 college campuses statewide, Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed said.

Reed said colleges were closed from 1-8 days afters the storm upended roofs, broke windows, downed trees and caused flooding.

One college alone, McNeese State University in Lake Charles, suffered up to $200 million in wreckage, including 50 buildings on campus that lost roofs, according to Daryl Burckel, president of the school.

The grim picture was spelled out to the Senate Education Committee during a 3 1/2 hour public hearing.

Karl Bruchhaus, superintendent of the Calcasieu Parish School District, said the roughly $300 million in wreckage to his public schools is more than ten times what Hurricane Rita cost in 2005 – about $26 million.

He said 74 of 76 schools were damaged, with 15 experiencing heavy disruptions, such as the loss of a roof.

Bruchhaus said temporary tarps on schools where a roof was will cost between $65 million and $70 million.

Only 124 of the district's 350 school buses are operable today, with about 50 left to examine.

Bruchhaus said a survey of families who live in the district show that 40% are in their permanent residence, 48% are living outside the parish and 12% are in the parish living in alternative living situations.

The district has about 32,000 students.

Families of about 11,000 students responded to the survey, and 97% said they plan to return to Lake Charles schools as soon as they reopen

The storm triggered 28 fatalities, and Gov. John Bel Edwards said Wednesday about 62,000 power outages remain three weeks after the storm arrived in Cameron Parish, down from 615,000 initially.

The storm also inflicted problems on central and north Louisiana.

State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said eight school systems had severe damages and 16 other setbacks of some sort – 35% of districts statewide.

Burckel said the storm blew the roofs off of 50 campus building, causing water and other damage. "There is not one part of the campus you can walk on that was not affected by this hurricane," he said.

Burckel said the key challenges are housing, electricity and internet access and that enrollment is expected to drop by 10%.

He said school officials plan a fast rebuilding program, with classes set to resume on Friday. "We anticipate every part of campus being worked on simultaneously," he said.

"We have a very aggressive plan to make our students know we will be back, that they will be taken care of," Burckel added. "The most important thing is to get them through this semester."

Gov. John Bel Edwards says power outages remain huge hurdle in southwest Louisiana

Jim Henderson, president of the University of Louisiana System, said Hurricane Laura appeared to be hurdling over schools in his system, including McNeese, Northwestern State University, Grambling University, Louisiana Tech and the University of Louisiana at Monroe.

"When you get a text from a university president at 2:30 a.m., it is rarely a good text," Henderson told the committee.

The messsage was from Burckel, who was reporting that the roof of a campus building had flown off.

"I knew it was going to be a tough few weeks," Henderson quipped.

SOWELA Technical Community College, also in Lake Charles, faces between $75 million and $100 million in storm-related damages, said Neil Aspinwall, chancellor of the school.

Aspinwall said classes are to resume on Sept. 25.

State Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, said overall damages from Hurricane Laura are estimated to be about $12 billion, three times that of Hurricane Rita in 2005.


Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.