Two Chicago-area freshmen, Lilly and McKenna, were on the Tulane campus for just a week when Hurricane Ida roared through and knocked out power to almost all of New Orleans.
And on Tuesday, with two packed bags each, they boarded buses to Houston with hundreds of other students to fly home.
“This is really scary, it’s nothing like anything I’ve ever had to endure ever in my whole life,” Lilly said of the experience. “I’ve been with people that I just met and they’ve all been really nice so like, it was a good bonding experience for sure.”
Tulane University began evacuating students Tuesday after canceling classes through September 12 and announcing that classes through October 6 would be held online.
The school said it needed to “give the city time to repair and reinstate power and other critical services.”
Tulane University President Michael Fitts said the path of the hurricane was unexpected and didn’t give them enough time to evacuate the students who had just arrived on campus to start the semester.
“They bonded, they worked this through, and now they’re boarding buses to go home. So they’ve been great,” Fitts said.
He said there’s cogeneration on campus, so those students have power, but the ones living off-campus don’t.
“But the fact of the matter, even if you have power on campus, if power is out with all of New Orleans, you can’t stay here. There’s no food, there’s no supplies, it’s not a good situation,” Fitts said.
The university, which in 2020 had 12,370 full-time students, said in a statement Monday that officials were establishing a hub in Houston where they’ll provide food and accommodations until students are able to fly home.
McKenna said she was terrified during the storm, which shattered a window on her dorm floor. She said everything in her dorm room is now wet and soggy.
McKenna also lamented that because of Covid-19, she hasn’t had a normal school year since she was 16.
Sophomore Ellie McGregor said the past few days have been “a little crazy,” as they’ve waited on direction from the university.
There was a lot of confusion until the official evacuation email went out Monday, she said.
Ellie’s friend and fellow sophomore, Kyra, laughed and said August 29 isn’t a good date, because it’s when they were put in a two-week quarantine last year.
Fitt said students have done well getting through the trials.
“They went through Covid, we brought all our students back last year, they taught classes on the ground, they retested half a million times, wearing masks. Then they come back this year, and then we have this,” Fitt said. “You know what, these are great students, great kids, they have resilience, they have character. They have handled this amazingly.”
The evacuations come after athletics department officials relocated the football and volleyball teams ahead of the storm’s arrival.
The football team, which evacuated to Birmingham, Alabama, on Saturday, will travel to Norman, Oklahoma, this week for a game at the University of Oklahoma.
Tulane was scheduled to be host to Oklahoma at Yulman Stadium in New Orleans on Saturday. The kickoff will remain at 11 a.m. CT (noon ET).
Tulane athletic director Troy Dannen said the team and other athletes will be housed in Birmingham until it is safe to return to New Orleans.
The volleyball team was relocated to Tallahassee, Florida, where it is scheduled to play in a tournament Thursday and Friday. Its first home match is slated for September 17.
The status of future home contests in football and other sports has not yet been determined, officials said.
Other universities in Louisiana will remain closed.
Xavier University of Louisiana announced Tuesday it is extending its closure and will begin relocating remaining on-campus students on Wednesday from New Orleans to Dallas, according to a news release.
The University of New Orleans said Tuesday that “remaining residential students are being temporarily relocated to the campus of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette while the power outage affecting metro New Orleans is resolved.”
Louisiana State University, which has its main campus in Baton Rouge, also announced it would be closed – through Monday – to give students and employees more time to recover from Hurricane Ida.
CNN’s Kevin Dotson and Homero de La Fuente contributed to this report.